Jesus And The Government


I just signed a petition urging the California State Senate not to pass a bill that the Assembly sent to them, but I’m not sure I should have.

We live in a representative democracy, so in that regard, I have some responsibility to shape the government as much as I can. But that’s not what Jesus did.

Of course He lived under the Roman Empire, in an occupied land with an appointed governor in charge. Yet I wonder.

After all, His counsel to the people of His day was to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” When He was interrogated first by Pilate, then by Herod, and again by Pilate, He did not revile in return, He didn’t utter any threats. What we have recorded in Scripture is either His silence or simple answers to the questions posed to Him.

What’s more, Peter instructs churches in the first century to

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. (1 Peter 2:13-14)

One more important piece of information: my hope is not in the government. I have no illusion that the government is going to fix things. The things that need fixing are a result of humankind’s sinful nature. We are increasingly becoming a nation of people who only want to do what is right in our own eyes. As a group we see humans as the arbiters of what is right and what is wrong. So if it looks good to us, if we think it might be tasty, if we think it can get us more power, more prestige, then we’re all for it. We are not thinking in any tangible way differently than Eve thought.

So government is not going to change our nature. In fact, our democratic republic was purposely designed to counter our sinful, selfish tendencies, and here we are, a scant 200 years later, considering a law that would undermine the very protection of rights our founding fathers thought necessary to include in our governing document.

Religious freedom? No, not if it’s going to clash with someone’s sexual desires. Or sexual proclivities. Or sexual perversions that they don’t even want any more. In reality, this law wants religion to shut up about sexual sin. The sin of choice in this case is homosexuality, but that’s because we have already OKed heterosexual sins. Even we in the church say very little about couples living together before marriage, or adulterous affairs, or multiple divorces and remarriage, or pornography, or pornographic entertainment disguised as TV shows or movies or books like Fifty Shades Of Grey.

Really? I’m bringing up that old book now? Well, yes, because that bit of our culture has had an influence on our attitudes—what we accept and what we think is OK.

Rather than looking to culture, though, we should be looking at Scripture and seeing what God has to say. He, after all, has our best at heart. He doesn’t give us laws to be a kill-joy. He isn’t thinking about the human experience and concluding that if He’d forbid X or Y or Z, then we’d be more miserable, so that’s what He’ll do.

Nothing could be further from the truth. God wants to give us Eden, He’s preparing a mansion. His free gift brings wholeness and healing. He sets things right. He doesn’t make life a little better. Instead, he changes our dead into life, our broken into made new, our slavery to corruption into freedom in Christ.

What does any of this have to do with me signing a petition?

If I am to emulate Christ, if I am to trust Him instead of government, am I spitting in the wind to do anything else?

Sometimes I think so. But I always come back to King Josiah who discovered God’s law and determined to bring his nation back to righteousness. In truth, a generation later, Judah succumbed to Babylon and the people were hauled into captivity. But Josiah had an impact during his lifetime. How many people found God and repented of their sins because one ruler determined to do what was right?

Shouldn’t we Christians be doing what is right, seeking to influence our government for right, all the while knowing that our trust is not in the government to fix things?

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Two Issues That Keep People From Truth


Jesus_the_Teacher031I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. Jesus plainly told a group of unbelievers why they were chasing falsehoods, but somehow I’d missed it. I hadn’t extrapolated what Jesus said to those He was addressing to all others who also held firmly to error.

Toward the end of Jesus’s life, the power brokers of His day—the Jewish leaders who controlled who was considered “clean” and therefore had access to the temple or, in places outside Jerusalem, to the synagogue—grilled Him about all kinds of things. Their motive was to trap Him so they could accuse Him of breaking the Law.

They asked Him what was the most important Law, whether it was right for Jews to pay taxes to Rome, how an adulterous woman should be punished, where His authority came from, and more.

Finally the Sadducees, the sect which didn’t believe in supernatural events like miracles and life after death or supernatural beings like angels, came up with what they thought was a fool-proof trap.

They told Jesus a story about a married woman whose husband, one of seven brothers, died. She had no children, so according to Jewish law, the brother was to marry her and produce an heir. First one brother married her, then he died. The next brother stepped up and married her, then he died, and so on until all seven brothers had married her. At last, she died as well.

The Jewish legalists trying to trip Jesus up had the stage set. So, they asked, in the after life [which they didn’t believe in], whose wife will she be since all seven men had her.

First, I’m a little shocked they told this story. It seems to me that any sensible man, after watching two, three, four of his brothers die after marrying that woman would realize she was a black widow and run the other way!

But apart from that, what hypocrites! Did they ever ask their polygamist men what wife would they have in the after life since they’d had all of those women? Of course not. It was fine for David to have hundreds of wives, for Solomon to have hundreds and hundreds of wives, but horrors if a wife had more then one husband, even if she only had one at a time.

Those unbelieving priests could just as easily have asked Jesus which wife would David have in the after life, but apparently in their cultural framework, multiple wives didn’t need to be explained. Only multiple husbands!

Jesus went straight to the heart of the problem, which wasn’t their inerrant cultural view of women. Their problem was that they didn’t believe in the supernatural.

I have to wonder what they thought about the blind men who could see after an encounter with Jesus. Or the lame man who got up and picked up his pallet when Jesus told him to. How about the lepers who were instantaneously clean? Or the dead boy raised to life? How did they account for these miracles if there was no supernatural power to intervene and change the course of nature?

They couldn’t explain any of it, so they teamed up with the leaders of the other Jewish sects to try and do away with Jesus. That’s all they had.

Jesus handled their question with aplomb. He didn’t beat around the bush, but gave them a straightforward answer that revealed their two problems—the same two problems all unbelieving people have:

    1. You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures
    2. You are mistaken, not understanding the power of God

Jesus then gave them a little Bible lesson:

“But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32)

In one short answer, He gave them understanding of Scripture and of God.

First, He illustrated God’s power by reminding them that the words they knew from Scripture came to them from God. The line He quoted was what God told Moses at the burning bush—that would be the bush that burned but was not consumed. The miraculous bush from which God spoke. The bush on holy ground.

Jesus not only reminded them of God’s supernatural power but also of the truth of Scripture—every single word. After all, His argument hinged on the tense of the verb AM. God said, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not, I was their God. The only conclusion to draw is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are living beings.

But the sect that didn’t believe in miracles or the after life or angels couldn’t get it. They read past the truth clearly stated in Scripture, and they didn’t believe God had the power to do these supernatural things.

They wanted a nice, neat, manageable God that they could manipulate for their own purposes. In fact, they didn’t even want a Messiah, though they professed to be waiting for Him to come. They tipped their hand when the joined the mob railing against Pilate for his “not guilty” ruling at Jesus’s final trial. You’re no friend of Caesar, the crowd cried. They topped that by answering Pilate’s question, What shall I do with the King of the Jews, by shouting back, We have no king but Caesar.

Ah, they really didn’t understand Scripture. And they really didn’t understand the power of God.

Published in: on June 14, 2016 at 6:54 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Resolving The Four Trials In Three Hours Issue


Arrest_and_Trial011The more closely I read the details of the events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion, the more convinced I am that they unfolded over a period of days, not hours.

The morning after his arrest, Jesus was hauled in front of the Sanhedrin for a final religious kangaroo court. The decision had been predetermined the night before, but to simulate legality, the elders, chief priests, and scribes gathered together to make it official.

Having declared Jesus a blasphemer, they dragged Him off to Pilate. Not wanting to defile themselves by entering into a Gentile home, which would make them unclean and unable to eat the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they remained outside while Pilate came to them.

I don’t know what they expected. A rubber stamp on their guilty verdict? They didn’t seem prepared. Pilate asked them what Jesus was guilty of and they said, in essence, Trust us, he’s no good. In other words, they made no accusation at first, apart from calling him an evildoer—a fact, they told Pilate, he could believe because they would not have brought him otherwise. A rather circular argument, and one Pilate wasn’t buying.

His first ruling was, You take him and punish him if he’s broken your law.

The Jews cut to the chase, then: “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” But they still had the problem that their accusation of blasphemy was not a crime against Rome.

That’s when they changed tactics and started accusing Jesus of things that would be an affront to the Roman government: “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” (Luke 23:2-3)

The last point got Pilate’s attention. Leaving the Jewish leaders outside, he went into the judgment hall and called Jesus to him. In reality, this interview began the first of the three political trials Jesus faced.

Did all these events happen in less than an hour? I have my doubts. In fact, because it was the day after Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a special Sabbath according to Old Testament law, I would postulate that the Pharisees delivered Jesus over to Pilate’s soldiers and scurried on home without hanging around the Gentile judgment hall.

I could be wrong about this. Pilate might have concluded this first trial some time that day, but I think it’s just as possible he didn’t rush right out when the Jews came calling, that he dealt with this legal matter in order, after he’d tended to the usual matters of the day. At this point he would certainly not have had reason to think the situation was an emergency.

At any rate, at some point, whether that day or whether several days later after the Special Sabbath and the regular Sabbath, in his interview with Jesus, the governor tried to nail him down regarding this accusation that He claimed to be a king.

Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

Pilate went outside to the waiting Jewish leaders and rendered his verdict regarding Jesus—not guilty. The Pharisees, perhaps growing somewhat desperate, tried to strengthen their case against Jesus, telling Pilate He was stirring up the people from as far away as Galilee.

At last Pilate saw a way out of this mess. Kind Herod, ruler of the Galilean district, was in Jerusalem for Passover. He could deal with Jesus.

And so ended the first trial. But did the second trial start that same day? Scripture doesn’t say one way or the other. But we are told that up to this point Herod and Pilate didn’t get along. Would Herod have rushed to respond to a message from Pilate that he was sending him a prisoner to examine?

Possibly. Scripture says Herod was eager to talk to Jesus. But did he know at once that Jesus was the prisoner?

I don’t know.

And I don’t know what the protocol was for judicial hearings. I do know that John the Baptist had been kept in prison for days and that Paul, when he was to be tried by Festus, also remained locked up for days. I don’t think there was a Roman policy about a speedy trial.

Scripture does say, Herod “questioned Him at some length” (Luke 23:9a). Was that for hours? All day? We don’t know for sure, but I suspect it was longer than the hour the traditional view of these events would allow.

The thing was, Jesus wouldn’t placate Herod’s curiosity. He refused to answer his questions. Even when the chief priests and scribes showed up to accuse Jesus of crimes He hadn’t committed, He made no defense.

Herod didn’t render a finding but that didn’t stop his soldiers from making sport of Jesus. After the official part of the trial, they decked Him out in a robe, mocked him, and treated him with contempt.

Back Jesus went to Pilate. The governor, according to Luke, had to call the chief priests and scribes together, again an indication that they weren’t standing in the streets waiting for this decision to be handed down.

I suspect by this time they realized they needed more leverage against Pilate. And if these trials were spread over several days, they would have had a reasonable amount of time to stir up some opposition to Jesus.

I don’t see the crowd who welcomed Him into Jerusalem turning against Him in a matter of an hour or so. But given time, word would get out that the Sanhedrin had found Jesus guilty.

On top of that, there were a number of Messiah claimants who preceded Jesus. Were the people once again disillusioned when the Passover came and went and Jesus didn’t lead them against Roman rule? That’s what most of the Jews expected from the Messiah. He would come as the descendant of David to claim his throne.

At any rate, when Jesus returned to Pilate, the Jewish leaders were prepared. They had the charges they could bring and the people primed to do their part.

Pilate again declared Jesus to be innocent and turned to the people, hoping they would side with him. Instead they clamored for a real insurrectionist named Barabas, and cried for Jesus to be crucified.

The governor had one ally, though. His wife had had a dream—which fits more perfectly into the timeline of events if she had heard about Jesus appearing before her husband, then had a dream in the night. Whenever this dream occurred, it unsettled her for some time, (“last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him” Matt. 27:19b) to the point that she had to warn Pilate not to have anything to do with “that righteous man.”

Pilate settled on a different punishment from crucifixion—scourging. His soldiers beat Jesus, mocked Him, feigned obeisance to the “King of the Jews”—the people they hated. None of this satisfied the Jewish leaders.

Again they threw the original charge at Jesus: “He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” Now Pilate was terrified, but he was more terrified of Rome. When it looked like he’d have a riot on his hands, when the Jewish leaders accused him of being no friend of Caesar’s for allowing this rival king to live, he relented.

And so, after all his findings of not guilty, Pilate washed his hands of the matter, literally, and told the Jewish leaders to do what they wanted to do.

Three political trials and one religious trial, all in the space of three hours? It doesn’t seem likely. But if these events were spread out over days, not hours, it’s easy to see them unfold logically—particularly the crowd growing more and more hostile and Pilate’s resistance wearing down.

Easter events calendar2

Published in: on April 15, 2014 at 7:13 pm  Comments Off on The Passion Of The Christ: Resolving The Four Trials In Three Hours Issue  
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The Passion Of The Christ: A Peek At The Timetable


The_Last_Supper015As I mentioned in the past, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Wednesday, not on a Friday as Church tradition says. From time to time, as I read through the gospels, then, I try to piece the events of “Passion Week” together. In the process, I’ve come to realize not everything fits in a period of seven days.

In fact, everything Scripture mentions after Jesus’s arrest doesn’t really fit into the small window of time we normally allow. Here’s how we usually hear it: Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover in the evening, complete with Christ washing their feet, then went out to the garden.

During the first part of the night, while the disciples slept, Jesus prayed, then Judas showed up along with the arresting Romans and Pharisees. They led Jesus first to the former high priest, then to the current high priest. After scurrilous accusations which couldn’t be proven, the high priest questioned Jesus. At His answer, he found Him guilty of blasphemy.

The next day at day break, to make the finding legal, the Sanhedrin, a group of seventy elders, met together and again declared Jesus guilty.

To sentence Him to death, however, they needed the Roman governor because they didn’t have the power of the death penalty in their Roman-ruled nation. But, blasphemy wasn’t a crime in the eyes of the Romans, so they needed to charge Jesus with something else.

Consequently, they marched Jesus off to Pilate, the governor, and hurled more trumped up charges against Him. Pilate heard the case but declared Him innocent. In the process, however, he learned that Jesus came from Galilee and would therefore be under Herod’s jurisdiction.

As it happened, Herod was in town, so Pilate sent Jesus to him. Herod interrogated Jesus, who didn’t answer his questions, then, after his soldiers had mocked Him, sent Him back to Pilate.

Pilate, under pressure from the Jews, questioned Jesus again and declared Him innocent, but the Jews riled up the crowd. Afraid that a riot would break out, Pilate agreed to let them crucify Jesus.

His soldiers, then, ridiculed Jesus as the King of the Jews, beat Him, and marched Him off to crucify Him.

All by 9 AM the day after His arrest.

I’m no archeologist or Hebrew scholar, so I don’t know how far the meeting place of the Sanhedrin was from Pilate’s palace or how far Pilate was from Herod’s palace or where precisely the Praetorium was where the soldiers beat Jesus or how far they had to travel to get to Golgotha where the execution took place. But I have to say, even if the travel was minimal, it’s a stretch for all those events to have taken place between sun up, when the Sanhedrin could legally meet, and 9 AM when Scripture says Jesus was crucified. The Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, Pilate, near riot, soldiers mocking and beating. That’s less than a half hour for each event, presuming, of course, that there was no waiting.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure the timetable for the events of Passion “week” have been based on the words “Sabbath” and “on the first day of the week” which was when the women went to the tomb and found it empty.

But there are other time indicators in the gospel passages–words like Passover, feast, and preparation day.

I’ll start with Passover and feast. For years I struggled with the gospel account because there’s clear testimony that Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples (see for example Matt. 26:20ff, Mark 14:14f, and Luke22:8ff.) However, John 18:28 says during Jesus’s trial, the Pharisees wouldn’t go into the Roman Praetorium because of the Passover–they wanted to stay clean so they could still eat it.

So . . . which was it—a past event or a future one?

I heard one preacher say Jesus and His followers ate the Passover early. Except that’s not what the Bible says. Ever.

The easy answer is found in Numbers 28:16-17 and in the corresponding passages in Leviticus and Exodus: the Passover was followed by seven days of feasting known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In fact the book of John records Jesus’s time with His disciples by beginning with “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father. . .” (John 13:1a).

Passover, then, was to be held on the fourteenth day of the first month. The next day was a holy convocation or special Sabbath and the beginning of seven days of eating Unleavened Bread. The last of those days was also a holy convocation or special Sabbath.

Of course, there was still the regular Sabbath, meaning that there was the Passover, seven days of Unleavened Bread, and at least three Sabbaths.

Confused yet?

I wouldn’t be surprised. I think just this little look at this one required celebration gives a feel for how tied the Jews were to ritual and regulation.

But for the purpose of the set of Easter posts I hope to write next week, I’ll conclude with this. The events of Easter happened in real time and involved real people. Our cursory look at what Jesus went through and what different people did doesn’t always gives us the complete picture. Maybe one of the best things we could do this coming Passion week would be to lay aside our suppositions and see what the text tells us.

Does it make a difference in the long run that we might be celebrating things that happened on the wrong days? Probably not. But I tend to think we might have a greater understanding of the people involved and why they did what they did. For me, I also gain more trust in the Bible. I see that the things that looked as if they were contradictory actually have clear explanations. And for those reasons, I think it’s valuable to take a closer look at the events of the Passion of the Christ.

Published in: on April 11, 2014 at 7:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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