The Jesus movement changed political theory. Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.” And he pretty much signed his death warrant. Forces got set in motion in Rome. It was assumed that the State had the franchise on religion. There was no notion of a State church. How to govern the church was the prerogative of the ruler.
Augustine, Luther, others – taking the ideas of Jesus, they were the first to suggest a form of limited government, that even kings would answer to a higher power. This is the first time that we see any kind of separation between the religion and the state. There are things that do not belong to Caesar. There are things in life that do not belong to the culture and to the powers that be. Look back at history and you will see a pattern. The Church followed Jesus the worst when it had the most power from the State.
Have you noticed that it’s an election year. How different would it be if the candidates displayed the humility and the civility of a Jesus who said, my kingdom is not of this world. Who was this man?
Politics seems to bring out the worst in us. When someone disagrees with you and it’s a topic you feel passionate about like politics, then isn’t it easy to make the other person out to be an enemy? Jesus uniquely taught us to love our enemies.
In the ancient world, virtue meant rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies. Ghengis Khan believed that the best in life is “to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.”
Jesus said, turn the other cheek, go with them two miles, love your enemies. And when Jesus died, it is written that he said to his tormentors, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”
His followers remembered this. They began to die in the same way. Nero would take followers of Jesus and cover them with pitch and use them as human lights during the gladiator games. And this went on for three centuries. And the response was not to dream of revenge or start an armed revolt but to love. Forgiveness as a concept in human affairs was initiated by Jesus.
God of Love
For those who say that they believe in a “God of Love,” where did they get that idea from? This idea came from somewhere. It was not from the ancient gods. Nobody back then said, I love Zeus. Or I love Baal. God was not someone you loved. He is someone you feared, you appeased, but not loved. This idea of a God who loves us and we love him came from Jesus and His followers. Jesus showed us that God is a God of love.
Have you ever been to Disneyland? If so, you’ve probably heard of a ride called, It’s a Small World After All. It’s a cute song at first, but by the 20th rendition of the song in another language, you get kind of sick of it. Imagine if the idea behind that ride became a reality. People from every tribe and nation and tongue could live together in harmony. This idea came from somewhere. That idea was never even on the table before Christ came along. Jesus and his followers put it into practice. His movement was the first in history to invite everyone regardless of race and gender and social standing to a single, transformational community called the Church. The Church was fundamentally different than any other group this world had ever known.
Jesus created a community where there would be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Thomas Cahill, who wrote, “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” said that this is the first expression of egalitarianism in human literature. It was Jesus’ idea.
Jesus changed how we think about human rights and dignity. In the Declaration of Independence, it reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Who said these are self-evident? These truths were not self-evident to the ancient world. This idea came from somewhere. Equality is self-evident only if you believe there is a Creator. Those who penned this declaration were Christians who believed that we all have a Heavenly Father above.
Now that we are here with Friendship Baptist Church, the oldest African American church in Pasadena, who can forget the speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Here are some excerpts from that speech:
‘We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” …I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” …I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’
MLK had a dream of a world that is not yet but one day will be. It wasn’t a secular dream. It was a dream inspired by the life and vision of a man named Jesus.
Imagine a world without Notre Dame, or Augustine, or Aquinas, or Joan of Arc, or Mother Teresa, or Desmond Tutu. What force can bring people together from every tongue, nation, ethnicity, people of varying backgrounds? Scientists like Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, Newton. George Washington and George Whitefield, William Carey and William Wilberforce, D.L. Moody and C.S. Lewis, Rev. Billy Graham and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rick Warren and Bono, Tony Campolo and Tony Blair and Tony Dungy, Tim Keller and Tim Tebow, Jeremy Camp and Jeremy Lin, John Calvin and Pope John Paul II and our very own John Shen. Who can bring people like this together? Only Jesus.
In light of this history, the more appropriate question that we should be asking is not, who was this man, but who IS this man?
We might think, if only I lived in Jesus’ day. If I met him in that brief encounter like the leper or the Roman centurion, I would surely believe. People from Jesus’ day may say to us, if only I saw what you now see. If I had seen 2,000 years of Jesus’ impact on the world and if I had the full Bible in my hands in a language I could understand and all the resources, and commentaries and youtube videos, I would believe.
Who is Jesus to you? There is a positive response, there is a negative response, and unlike the would-be disciples who wanted to straddle the fence, there is no neutral response. He’s the Son of God and you have 2 choices. Accept him as your personal Lord and Savior. Or reject him and go on your way. There is no neutrality when it comes to being a follower of Jesus.
Let us marvel at Jesus, the hinge of history. And we must marvel at this man because his work is not done yet. The call of the carpenter goes to that man, to that woman. Will you be that man, will you be that woman?