Friday, July 20, 2012

Caesar or Christ?

Besides maintaining stability through taxation and military threat, the Roman Empire also established an imperial religion.  The name Augustus was one that was given to him by the Senate of Rome.  Prior to this he had been called Octavius.  Augustus literally means “worthy of worship.”  And indeed he became the object of worship throughout the Empire.  One scholar named Ethelbert Stauffer states:  In the framework of ancient liturgy he was invoked like one of the ancient national gods of Rome…and he was surrounded with such an abundance of religious honour that many people thought there was nothing left for the worship of the heavenly gods (Tacitus).

Not only had he been declared “worthy of worship” but his father Julius was divinized after he died and this gave Augustus grounds for claiming the title: “son of god.”  There is an inscription that was written around 9 BC  that gives us some insight to the way in which he was being hailed as more than a man:

The most divine Caesar…we should consider equal to the Beginning of all things…; for when everything was falling [into disorder] and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave to the whole world a new aura; Caesar…the common good Fortune of all…the beginning of life and vitality….All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year….Whereas Providence, which has regulated our whole existence…has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us [the emperor] Augustus, whom it [Providence] filled with strength for the welfare of men, and who being sent to us and our descendants as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order; and [whereas,] having become [god] manifest (phaneis), Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times …in surpassing all the benefactors who preceded him…, and whereas, finally, the birthday of the god [Augustus] has been for the whole world the beginning of good news (euangelion) concerning him [therefore let a new era begin from his birth]. (OGIS 2.#458)


 “And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.”

And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
One cannot listen to the words of Jesus and NOT realize the political implications of the gospel of the Kingdom –the  KING’s domain.  The term KINGDOM is pregnant with governmental imagery - monarchy - theocracy.  It implies that there must be a king - sovereign ruler over the affairs of men.

Before His crucifixion Jesus was asked, "Are you a King?", to which He responded, "Thou sayest!"  Above his head, on the cross, there was placed a sign by he Romans that said, "The King of the Jews."  Jesus spent much time publicly speaking about the kingdom, where it was, how it worked, He even taught His disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom, they will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."  Jesus’ reign was to come into this time/space world of ours and his kingship - his government, his rule was seen as an obvious threat, not only to the Romans but also to those Zionists who longed for a return to an earthly Jewish state and their nationalistic identity  (as reflected in the attitude of His disciples at the end of His 40 day, post-resurrection seminar on the subject when they inquired, “Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”)
8 Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; 9 and he entered into the Praetorium again and *said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate *said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” 12As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, 

“If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”

Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he *said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” 15 So the chief priests answered, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate *said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”

Jesus’ kingdom is political and has worldwide political implications.  To relegate it to some other ethereal realm or some future age is to deny the prayer and teachings of Jesus.  The problem for most of us is that we do not prayerfully consider the teachings of Jesus or their impact upon ourselves, our world, our society, our ethics, our morals, our nation and our politics!
Although it is a mind boggling concept, I like the idea of the WWJD test (What Would Jesus Do). We must consider, as representatives of the King, how would He have us respond to human suffering , oppression, racism, injustice, poverty, militarism, child abuse, pornography and the flood of filth burying this nation? Or, as in Bonheoffer’s case, how do we as ambassadors for Christ respond to genocide, murder, and tyranny? Are we called to just sit back and think noble heavenly thoughts?  Do we simply retire to our closets and pray for divine intervention?  One important question is, “Are we justified in feigning obedience to the governments of men under the guise of "rendering unto Caesar'?”  Are we justified, as God’s ambassadors  in remaining passive and powerless in the face worldwide war, violence, suffering, injustice, exploitation, pestilence, famine, genocide and American militarism?
It is my contention that if there are no "political" consequences to the kingdom of God coming to earth (as it already is in heaven), then HIS will is NOT being done on earth.  A clash of kingdoms is inevitable. The kingdom of God often stands diametrically opposed to the plans, purposes, means, methods and ends of the kingdoms of this world.  One cannot pledge allegiance to both Caesar and Christ. Our purpose as agents of a foreign power is more than a license sell fire insurance and preach the peace and prosperity American “apple pie in the sky when we die by and by” gospel!  Our avoidance of the clash between civilizations, values, and kingdoms has resulted in what Tony Campollo calls “low impact Christianity.”
Christianity is by nature counter cultural! Jesus Christ was a radical.  He neither sanctioned Roman Justice nor the democratic expression of the Greek ecclesia.  No one hearing him could ignore the inplications of the primacy of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus espoused with such authority.  If we are indeed subjects of the King of Kings,  we must ask Him, “Lord, our Commander and Chief, what would you have me do in the face of such evil?  How shall I respond?  What is your will to be done?”
I am convinced that we are not called to be passive or cowards but more than conquerors through Christ.  In these dark times let us not pray for ease, peace, prosperity, blessings or comfort but let us ask God for what is needed - courage!  Courage to march to the beat of a different drum!  Courage to stand and declare the will of God and to live out kingdom values in the midst of a self absorbed narcissistic culture. 
The question for us to consider is not IF Jesus is ruling over His kingdom but how, when and where does He demonstrate His rule or dominion.  The BIG unasked question is often,  HOW  - by what means - in what way - should we as ambassadors for Christ respond to his call to BE His disciples in the midst of a fallen world.  How do we demonstrate the primacy of faith and the love of God to such a fallen world?  How do we oppose evil without ourselves utilizing tactics, which make us like that which we hate?   Lord what would you have us do?
As illogical as it may sound, we must accept that Christianity is not ultimately about outcomes or even the transformation of society. The goal is not utopia or heaven on earth but a heavenly people on the earth.  It is not about WHAT we do or achieve but HOW we do!   It is about demonstrating the ultimacy of the power of sacrificial love.  Hence, good ends achieved by other than love are of dubious eternal consequence.  Love is the pure hi-test gas which powers the engine of the kingdom advance and which leaves behind no trail of pollution.

We need to understand what the "Kingdom of God" is all about and what it means for us to be "citizens of heaven" and where our allegiance truly is!  When there is conflict between the teachings of Christ (assuming we really are interested and diligent in trying to understand what our Lord wants us to do) AND what is our actual practice, then what do we do?  As with Bonheoffer, or Dr. King, Patrick Henry, and countless others around the world, we must be moved to stand against the tide - even if it costs us our liberty, our comforts and/or our lives.  Whether the issue  is abortion, caring for the poor and destitute, ending slavery, or justice for the oppressed, the only appropriate question for us to ask is, “Lord what would you have us DO!?!” 

This doing or acting is not obligatory but a reasonable expression of our submission to His Lordship.  It is a manifestation - a visible evidence - of the love which operates within us.  This heavenly love compels us to act.  Simply saying we have faith or that we are “believers” is not sufficient. The devils believe and tremble.  So you're a believer?  So what!  Faith without works is dead; meaning that mere “belief” is impotent - it is neither life giving nor life enhancing!  We are to show our trust in the Lord, to demonstrate our submission to Him and His reign with and by our acts of obedience.  Jesus says, “If you love me you will do what I say!” Really?! Can it possibly be that simple?

We American self-styled believers are, for the most part, impotent because we do not practice what we preach or at least what we profess to believe.  We are all so smug secure and comfortable in our religious kingdoms and our little theological houses that require so little of us.  The point we must understand is, as Morpheus says to Neo in The Matrix, “There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path!”

We have opted out and chosen to delegate to a secular self-serving worldly American governmental system such responsibilities as caring for the poor, the widow and the orphan.  In abdicating our God given opportunities for loving service, we have made the government of God subservient to or beneath and subject to the governments of men.  Despite the saying on our money, We do NOT trust in God, we trust in the money and most of all we trust in ISMS - whether it is Capitalism, Americanism, Liberalism, Socialism, Conservatism, Libertarianism, Communism, Fascism, Evangelicalism, Protestantism, Catholicism or any other of a host of institutionalisms!  I once heard a brother comment that:  If the people of God would get right with God and live out their faith by the love of God, all them isms would be wasms!” 

In saying these things I find myself deeply convicted.  I too talk a good talk, but if I were struck deaf, mute and without even a voice in cyberspace, I wonder if anyone would recognize that I am a follower of Jesus and that I am subject to a higher government – a higher calling – and a higher power by simply observing how I conduct my life!  After all, Jesus did NOT say “By their rhetoric, or their labels,  their theology, their blogs or their public policy pronouncements ye shall know they are my disciples!”

Most of the time I’m afraid my big mouth speaks much louder than my life.  Lord have mercy!

So here is my prayer for me and for us.  "Oh God, bring gripping conviction on our hearts and cause us to throw ourselves at your feet in absolute surrender. Come and reign over and in us for we know there is no hope in following or in allegiance to Caesar.”

1 comment:

  1. We should all be like the sons of Isachaar i.e understanding of the times. Great aricle George.



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