Not this Man, but Barabbas!
There is a reason why it is often said that you shouldn't talk about religion or politics. They are both topics that people are very passionate about, and they sometimes lead to discussions that create more heat than light. As a Christian and as a professor of theology, I cannot avoid the first topic and wouldn't want to anyway. As a human being living in this world, it's difficult to avoid the second.
Several days ago, I posted a blog about the insatiable lust for political power at all costs that is so prevalent in American evangelicalism. I knew that some people would read into it things I don't think or believe, but I posted it anyway because it is important for us as Christians to be self-critical. We should always be evaluating our thoughts, words, and actions according to the standard of Scripture.
In that article, I pointed out how lust for political power at all costs thoroughly corrupted the medieval Roman Catholic Church and how it will corrupt our churches as well. Today, I want to think about how we get to that point of craving political power at any cost.
Ultimately it boils down to what we are most concerned about. I hear and read Christians almost every day saying that their biggest concern is the direction in which the United States is headed. Or they are most concerned about the collapse of Western civilization. Granted, many people are concerned about these things because of their love for their children or grandchildren. They worry about what kind of world those children will inherit. Their love for their children and grandchildren is not the problem. The problem occurs when this world becomes the main concern for their children and grandchildren.
The problem occurs when our main concern is fundamentally a political concern.
Why is that a problem?
If we think the biggest problem we face is a political problem, we will be focused on looking for a political solution - for political salvation, and if we are focused on political salvation, we will be looking for a political savior - a political Messiah with a political gospel.
If it is not clear why this is a problem, we need to go back and re-read the Gospels and look at what the first-century Jews were focused on and how it contributed to their rejection of Jesus.
The first-century Jews lived under the tyrannical rule of the Roman Empire. That was the world into which Jesus was born. These first-century Jews longed for the day, promised in the Old Testament, when the Messiah would come. Sadly, however, they misunderstood these prophecies. They focused on only one aspect of the Messianic prophecies, and it created a distortion in their expectations. They saw the promises of the coming king, but they tended to ignore the prophecies regarding the suffering servant. They did not clearly understand that that the Messiah would fulfill both.
When Jesus began his ministry and people started saying he was the long-awaited Messiah, there was great excitement. Many of the Jews thought that Jesus would throw off the Roman yoke. Their hope was for a political savior, a political Messiah. We can see this in the changing response of the Jews when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem (Matthew 21). Within a week, the same Jews who were crying "Hosanna" were crying "Crucify him" and "Give us Barabbas!"
Because Jesus didn't meet their expectations. He wasn't the political Messiah they were looking for. He had different priorities. He didn't take the throne of Israel and drive the Romans out. Instead, he went like a sheep to the slaughter to die for our sins. He had to go to the cross before receiving his crown. The priority of Jesus was our redemption from sin and death. The priority of many first-century Jews was redemption from political tyranny.
Modern American evangelicalism has taken a page from the playbook of medieval Roman Catholicism, and we've done the same with first-century Judaism. Like many of the first-century Jews, we see our biggest problem as a political problem. Like them, we are eager for political salvation, which causes us to look for a political Messiah, someone who promises us liberation from political tyranny.
We need to beware, however, because like the first-century Jews, our longing for a political Messiah could very easily cause us to reject the real Messiah. When political power at any cost becomes the main priority, principle flies out the window and godless pragmatic ethics takes control. We can suddenly find ourselves in the midst of an angry crowd screaming, "Give us Barabbas!" and we wonder what happened.
What happened is that we got our priorities out of order and upside-down. When we began to see our biggest problem as a political problem, political salvation effectively became our biggest priority.
One of the ironies here is that to the extent that conservative evangelicals see their biggest problem as a political power problem, to that same extent they are echoing some of the basic principles of liberation theology - a form of theology rooted in Marxism. Without realizing it, we began espousing a "conservative" mirror-image version of the social gospel.
Political problems are real problems, but they are not the ultimate problem. The ultimate problem is our sin and the death that is its penalty. That problem cannot be fixed by getting a political messiah in office. It cannot be fixed by appointing certain judges or passing certain legislation. The problem of sin can only be dealt with through the once-for-all atoning death of the real Messiah, Jesus.
The real Messiah has ascended to the right hand of the Father and has been crowned King. He will return, and at that time, He will drive out the "Romans." In the meantime, the calling of the Church is not to go into all the precincts and spread a political social gospel. The calling of the Church is to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified to everyone - to those on the political left and to those on the political right, to those in the blue states and to those in the red states, to those behind Antifa masks and to those behind white sheets, to every tongue, and tribe, and nation.
We are to seek first the Kingdom of God, not the kingdoms of men.
NOTE: Because it always happens when I write on this topic, let me say again, this does not mean that our earthly affairs don't matter. We still have to pay the bills. This does not mean that Christians cannot work towards the betterment (biblically defined) of the countries in which our earthly citizenship is found. This does not mean Christians cannot be called to political jobs or political engagement with important earthly issues. What it does mean is first things first. It means keeping our priorities in the right order and not falling into idolatry. It means not sacrificing biblical principles on the altar of political pragmatism. If we do that, we shouldn't be surprised to hear the words, "Hosanna" coming out of our mouths on Sunday morning and "Give us Barabbas!" coming out of our mouths the rest of the week.
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