27 March 2022

Political Rights and the Cross

To follow Jesus means a life of self-denial, a willingness to suffer persecution for him, and selfless service to others

For his disciples, rage and violence are NOT appropriate reactions to hostility. Enraged responses by  Christians to perceived violations of their “rights” only demonstrate how far they have strayed from biblical teachings.

And by “we” I mean Christians. The question is not whether citizens of any country have individual and political rights, or whether democracy, autocracy, or monarchy is the superior form of government, but instead, how are followers of Jesus to conduct themselves within whatever political structure they may find themselves.

Let us begin by considering the issue of persecution. If we become angry over even verbal insults to our faith, how will we respond to genuine and serious persecution? Would we take to the streets in protest, or perhaps riot against our perceived persecutors? Is that what Jesus would do?

But instead of the typical human reaction, he instructed HIS disciples to “rejoice and leap for joy” whenever “men hate you and ostracize you, and profane you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man…for great is your reward in heaven.” Reactions of that kind stand in stark contrast to our tendency to lash out at every infringement on our “rights,” whether real or imagined - (Matthew 5:10-12).

And Jesus left us with a real-world example of how we are to show mercy and love to our enemies. In Gethsemane, an armed mob approached determined to arrest him. Peter reacted all too typically, taking out his sword and cutting the ear off the servant of the high priest. Mind you, if ever there was a man innocent of all charges, it was Jesus. Surely, this was an incident when violence committed in self-defense was wholly justified. Had not this “servant” come armed with a club to arrest him on trumped-up charges?

But Jesus did the unexpected. He touched the man and healed his ear. Mind you, he was under no illusions about what was coming Not many days previously he had warned the disciples that he would be “betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes. And they will condemn him to deathand they shall mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him.”

And after his resurrection, the disciples took his teachings to heart. When Peter and the Apostles were hauled before the Sanhedrin, beaten, and ordered to cease preaching, rather than respond in anger, denounce the high priest, or demand their day in court, they went their way “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

Likewise, after being beaten and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, Paul and Silas spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God” from their prison cell - (Acts 5:41, 16:23-25).

On the “mount,” Jesus exhorted everyone who would follow him to “love your enemies, to pray for them who persecute you,” and to extend mercy to every “enemy” who abuses you. Acts of mercy to one’s enemies is how his disciple emulates God and becomes “perfect” as He is - (Matthew 5:38-48).

He was the only truly righteous man ever to live. If anyone deserved respect for his “rights,” he did. Yet rather than be served, Jesus came “to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” This he did by enduring a horrific and unjust death, which he did willingly when we were yet “enemies of God.” If anything, conforming to the pattern of his death is how we become “great in the kingdom of God” - (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:10).

When an armed mob came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and “smote the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear.” But Jesus did the unexpected. Rather than join Peter in defending his “rights,” he rebuked him, then commanded him to sheathe his sword. But he went further “against the grain” by healing the severed ear of the wounded man who had come to arrest him, contrary to the law and his “rights” - (John 18:10-12).

Interrogated, beaten, and reviled before the High Priest, Jesus reviled not in return. While suffering on a Roman cross, he prayed that his Father would “forgive them, for they know not what they do” - (Matthew 27:39, Mark 15:32, Luke 23:34).

Scripture portrays persecution for the gospel as something Christians should expect and endure, and not only so, but to suffer for Christ is a great privilege and honor, a matter for rejoicing.

Through loud protests and legal machinations, Christians may avoid persecution but then unwittingly rob themselves of something of infinitely greater value than a comfortable life.  Like the hypocrites who do their righteous deeds to be seen before men, they may already “have their reward,” but NOTwith their Father who is in heaven” - (Matthew 6:1-5).

As for our “inherent rights,” the notion of inviolate civil “rights” that must be defended at all costs flies in the face of New Testament teachings on discipleship, mercy, suffering for the gospel, and the forgiveness of enemies.  If we wish to become his disciple, we must daily “take up his cross and follow after” him. Failure to do so makes us unworthy of him. To become "greatest" in the kingdom of God, one must first become the “slave of all.”

We are summoned to “deny ourselves, take up his cross,” and daily follow the “Lamb wherever he goes,” and genuine self-denial means to deny ourselves of that which is ours by right - (Matthew 16:24, Revelation 14:1-5).

The Apostle Paul gave up his “right” to take a wife for the sake of the ministry. Likewise, though as an apostle he had the right to expect financial support, he often abstained from this “right,” and instead, supported himself through manual labor to further the gospel - (Acts 18:3, 1 Corinthians 4:11-12, 9:1-14).

Western-style democracy may provide its citizens with the opportunity to exercise and defend their civil “rights.” However, that belief is altogether different than the gospel and example of Jesus.

In contrast, Christianity offers us the far greater privilege of serving God’s kingdom, and the vast honor of enduring insults, hatred, and even persecution on behalf of its king, Jesus Christ, with rewards that far outweigh any losses we may suffer in this life while we wait for the appearance of our Lord in glory.

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