Jesus’ agenda isn’t political, it’s so much bigger!

There’s an election on!

Or at least there will be come May 7th. And as was to be expected I suppose there’s been all manner of hype and insufferable tweeting regarding who’ll win, who won’t, who we should vote for and who we shouldn’t. For political nuts like me it’s easy to be swept up in election fever, and even if you’re not particularly into politics you may too be looking forward to seeing the swingometer swinging with abandon and the results coming in overnight. I know I am!

Christians too will of course not be immune from all this coverage, and I’m confident some fellow believers may even tell us who we should be voting for, what policy issues we should care about and so on. As such, Christians should remember this simple but important fact:

Jesus’ agenda isn’t political; it’s so much bigger!

This is a glorious and exciting truth whatever your level of interest and views regarding politics, and in what follows I hope to explain why.

Involved without losing perspective

Firstly, let me say that it isn’t wrong to be interested in politics, nor that Government (of whatever hue) is inherently bad and to be avoided. The apostle Paul says that Government has been instituted by God (Romans 13:1) and that we should pray for our political leaders -‘that we should live a quiet and peaceful lives’ (1 Timothy 2:2). These scriptures therefore encourage a certain degree of engagement in the political process; even it is just paying taxes, obeying government and praying for our leaders.

Some will, in tune with their individual gifts feel particularly motivated to get more involved in the political process. This is a good thing. We need a gospel witness in the social, cultural and political sphere as much as (but not more than) in the accountancy office, factory, school etc.

Yet we need to realise that no amount of political and policy intervention will deal with humanity’s biggest problem – sin, which has ever present in the world since the fall (Genesis 3). Jesus said as much when he said that from the human heart come all manner of evil (Mark 7:21-22). Indeed, the problems we see in the world today can be directly attributable to sin, whether indirectly through the broken world we live as a consequence of the fall, or via direct human action.

The only solution to this fatal problem is the gospel (which can be summed up as ‘Jesus is Lord’, click on the link for more details). Faith in the Lordship of Christ and not politics will ultimately save us from the judgement our sin deserves. Indeed, the reason Jesus came to dwell on earth was not to achieve political revolution, eradicate poverty or overthrow the leaders of the day, but to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). We would do well to remember this as we go to the polls on May 7th.

Living out the gospel

Ah, but what about when Jesus talked about proclaiming good news to the poor? Surely that shows that Jesus was concerned about tackling poverty and eradicating injustice right? Whilst I don’t think Jesus would have been immune to the plight of the poor, or not cared about injustice, I believe this passage where Jesus talks about ‘proclaiming good news to the poor’ helps reiterate Jesus core mission, to call sinners to repentance.

The fact Jesus used the word proclaiming tells us that his primary concern was to tell us something life changing, the gospel. In addition, whilst the ‘poor’ in this content certainly includes the materially poor, the Greek word concerned can also mean figurative poverty (that is, spiritual poverty.) Thirdly, Jesus acted in various ways to change people’s physical circumstances (in performing miracles for example) so that people would see that he was the one to come (Luke 7:21-23), no one less than the Messiah, Saviour of the World and Son of God.

All of this makes sense of what Jesus says in Luke 5:23-24 and 32

Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins — he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home” (my emphasis).

And in v. 32: ‘I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

An eternal focus

Very well you might say, politicians can’t deal with this fundamental problem, and Jesus might have primarily come not to bring about political revolution but aren’t we called to live out the gospel through changing our communities, cities and nations? Shouldn’t we use this amazing hope we now have to deal with the plethora of problems we see in the world? Surely the love of Christ in us motivates us to such action?

These are all very good questions. As said already, some of us will be called to be involved in such things, and even if we’re not, I think having concern for the problems in our world is by no means a bad thing; we are called to be stewards of the earth after all (Genesis 1:28). In addition, God clearly commends justice and fairness (Deuteronomy 15:11, 24:21-22, Galatians 6:10.) Yet in acknowledging this, we need to be aware of three things.

  1. Jesus (and indeed the Bible’s focus) is not primarily on this world but on the one to come (see for example Genesis 22 and 2 Corinthians 4:18). Christians are told to live their lives in light of eternity (Romans 8:23), set their minds on ‘the things that are above (Colossians 3:2-4), lose our lives for the sake of the gospel in order to gain life later (Mark 8:35) and invest in treasure that will never perish (Matthew 6:19-21.)
  2. As such, scripture promises a time when the ills blighting humanity and our universe will be no more (Romans 8:21, Revelation 21:4) and where we’ll be in perfect relationship with him (Revelation 22:1-5). Thus, whilst political and social interventions can and do (by the grace of God) alleviate some of the pain, injustice and evil we see in our world, the thing we truly long for (a permanent end to all imperfection) can, and will be solely achieved by God alone bringing in a new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17-24). It is vital we see all our political and social ‘good endeavours’ in this light.
  3. As a result, our primary concern should essentially revolve around the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) – reaching out to others sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and making disciples helping believers become more like Christ. This process, sanctification, is a major focus of the apostolic letters of the New Testament (see for example, Romans 6:13-18, Colossians 2:6-7, 3:12-17, 1 Peter 1:13-15.)

In summary, it is my hope that we’d see the upcoming General Election as an opportunity to remember:

  1. God cares about Government; he instituted it and expects us to obey it.
  2. That it is good for Christians to be concerned about various local, regional, national and international injustices for God cares about injustice and unfairness
  3. The greatest problem facing the World today is our own sin, something which can only be remedied through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  4. As such, Jesus primary concern during his time on earth was proclaiming and embodying his lordship, and thus, calling sinners to repentance.
  5. Our primary concern should be making disciples of Jesus Christ and pursuing Godliness in light of eternity.
  6. Whilst political and social interventions can have positive impacts of alleviating social and political problems, the new creation, which will exclusively be brought about by God (and not us) will be the only place where sin, evil, pain and injustice will be no more.

 

Seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary

freely-10112Have you heard about the book about a boy who went to heaven and back? The ‘real life’ tale reads something like this; a six year old boy called Alex Malarkey is involved in a serious car crash, he is rushed to hospital and goes onto die. During his ‘death’ he arrives in heaven before coming back to life and making a full recovery. The account clearly resonated with many, with the book reaching the top of the New York Times bestseller list, selling copies by the million.

It now turns out though that the facts found within this story are more than a little spurious, with Malarkey (now 17) and his mother, now admitting he neither died or went to heaven (although he was seriously injured in a car crash.) The very fact that this bogus story was picked up by a Christian publisher and sold by Christian retailers surely says something about our increasing desire to digest more ‘miraculous’ and ‘extraordinary’ accounts of God’s power.

Interestingly, I’ve just finished reading a book called Ordinary, by Michael Horton. It’s a very helpful read and I recommend it. One of the many good points made by the seminary professor behind the ‘White Horse Inn’ podcast is that in seeking out of the ordinary signs and wonders we are in danger of missing the everyday yet extraordinary displays of God’s power and providence.

I’d like to draw on this point further in this piece. Before I do however let me say that I personally believe that in accordance with his absolute sovereignty, God can and has performed miracles such as physical healings. Further, Jesus when on earth performed acts which were quite clearly outside the laws of nature such as walking on water and raising people from the dead. In demonstrating his divinity, these miracles are indeed extraordinary, and different from God’s more everyday acts. My concern however is that we too often take these ‘ordinary’ acts as given and rather mundane, when in actual fact the opposite is true.

In what follows, I will take two ‘ordinary’ deeds and explain why they should be considered extraordinary, supernatural and sovereignly provided by God. It is my hope that in doing so we’d come to regard God in a more awesome, reverential and thankful way.

  1. The creation and sustaining of the universe

When we look at Genesis 1, we see a repeated phrase, ‘And God.’ This action, mentioned no less than 24 times in this opening chapter clearly demonstrates that whatever you think regarding whether the earth was created in 7, 24 hour time periods, or whether evolution was involved, God is the sovereign initiator and creator of the vastly magisterial and complex expanse we call the Universe. This awe-inspiring act is evident in everything we see around us, from stars light-years away, the beauty of the Chiltern Hills, the vivid rainforest of the Amazon or even the average house plant!

Moreover, God did not magnificently create the earth and all living things within it and then simply leave it to ‘do its thing.’ No, God not only supernaturally initiated and created, but also graciously and sovereignly sustains all life today (Hebrews 1:3.) As such, the fact you’re reading this now and have breath in your body is a cause for great worship and thanksgiving.

  1. The gifts of justification and sanctification

Secondly, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that we do nothing to earn our justification (that is, having Christ’s righteousness credited to us by God) whatsoever. This fact shouldn’t be especially surprising given that we are born into sin (Psalm 51:5). Indeed, Paul’s letter to the Romans demonstrates that without God’ intervention, we would be enemies of God, set against him (Romans 3:9-18) In other words, justification is achieved through the gift of faith alone graciously provided to us by God. (Ephesians 2:1-9) It is therefore nothing less than absolutely extraordinary.

A believer’s sanctification (being progressively made more Christ like) is likewise a wholly extraordinary and magisterial act of our heavenly father. That is, whilst the Bible exhorts the believer to pursue holiness and godliness (2 Peter 1:5) this is only possible and is guaranteed by God’s amazing grace. In other words, this aspect alone fuels and powers our efforts in pursuing the above qualities (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.) In other words, both our justification and sanctification are guaranteed by faith, which as noted above is a gift from God, how reassuring!

Application – appreciating the ordinary

Overall, these two so called ‘ordinary’ acts are in actual fact anything but. Whilst the miracles performed by Jesus were unique and performed outside the laws of physics and nature, the two acts above are still entirely amazing, astonishing and God glorifying. My hope is that in realising this, we’d come to view God with more reverence and awe, being increasingly thankful for the everyday ways in which he acts for our good.

Further, in treating the above events as mundane, we can sometimes be in danger of treating God as if he has short changed us when in actual fact he has blessed us abundantly. This is how Paul can say that he’s filled with thanksgiving when hearing upon the salvation of others (Colossians 1:3-8). In addition, Jesus says that in the gospel and his Word we have all we need to bear fruit today (John 15:1-8.)

In short, God through his Son, Holy Spirit, Gospel and Word has sufficiently provided (through his miraculous power) all we could ever need. My concern is that too often we take this undeserved provision for granted, expecting him to do something ‘more’ when he’s already given us so much.

Romans 12:1-2 ESV: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

BINDER’S ROUNDUP – 7TH APRIL 2015

ShopHere’s a round up of some interesting articles you might have missed in the last fortnight or so. As usual, I don’t necessarily agree with all the opinions expressed, but nonetheless found the articles worthwhile reads.

Jay Z’s Tidal may be a revolution – for the rich recording artists by James Allen-Robertson – The Conversation
KEY POINT: Tidal, a new music streaming service launched by Jay-Z will (despite its claims) benefit established artists more than new and upcoming talent.

Freedom at Easter – The Times
KEY POINT: More needs to be done to protect persecuted Christians around the World, as highlighted by the recent Al-Shabaab terrorist attack in Kenya, where 147 were killed and where Christians were targeted.

Political Blind Date: Green leader Natalie Bennett meets Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg by Abigail Radnor – The Guardian
KEY POINT: The two politicians go on a ‘blind date.’ The results are entertaining and informative!

The Germanwings crash was a tragedy for our school. Then the press descended by Mika Baumeister – The Guardian
KEY POINT: Written by school student Baumeister, this accounts reveals the lengths some journalists went to in order to gain information regarding the French Alps plane crash. 

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes by Nigel Morris & Oliver Wright – The Independent
KEY POINT: Profile of some of the key figures behind the scenes within many of the established and smaller political parties.

The photographer who broke the internet’s heart – BBC Trending
KEY POINT: Story behind the photograph of the Syrian girl holding up her hands for a camera (thinking it was a weapon) which went viral on social media.

Ten seats Labour must win at the 2015 General Election by Asa Bennett – The Daily Telegraph
KEY POINT: 10 marginal constituencies according to Bennett that Labour must win in the upcoming General Election.

Ten seats the Conservatives must win at the 2015 General Election by Asa Bennett – The Daily Telegraph
KEY POINT: 10 marginal constituencies according to Bennett that the Conservatives must win in the upcoming General Election.