Christians worldwide, but especially those in the US, are deeply engaged with, active in, and vocal about politics. Concerned, often fearful, that our nation has lost its bearings, and is now heading in a dangerous direction, they feel morally compelled to plunge into the political fray, lest we lose our country to the forces of evil. (This is a shared perception irrespective of one’s political persuasion. Both sides of the political divide claim the moral high ground.) While the motivations for political immersion are understandable, that methodology, seeking and exerting power is, for Christians I think, not only unscriptural, it is perilous. Here’s why.
When Jesus began his ministry, his goal was to change the world. He wanted to bring truth and life to every person. He came to usher in his Kingdom—his nation, a holy nation. Now, Jesus, being God in human form, could accomplish this goal in any way he wanted. When choosing a means to change the world, like most American Christians today, political power was certainly an option for him. He could have participated in politics, he could have worked his way into governmental authority, he could have run for office, he could have stormed the imperial palace, but he chose not to do so. In the end, he chose a different way, a way that aligned with his Father’s heart and will and nature. Refusing the route of Roman political power, Jesus chose a radically different path, one in which he actively rejected all political power. And, he rejected political power every single time he was tempted to obtain it.(1) (He rejected religious power, too, by the way.) He spoke to power. He did not seek it.
Just as Jesus was about to start his ministry, Satan tempted him with political power—not just political power over Rome—but political power over all the nations of the world. ‘The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the nations of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and glory; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Luke 4:5-8
In wielding all the political power of every nation on earth Jesus could have made a huge difference. He could have established the wisest and most just laws known to humankind. He could have outlawed abortion and euthanasia, and capital punishment in every single nation on earth. He could have forbidden military intervention and war between peoples and countries. He could have mandated economic justice and ended poverty the world over. Pretty tempting stuff. But, Jesus rebuffed Satan’s offer of power- in its entirety.
Why? Because Jesus knew that Satan’s offer of political power was a temptation (Luke 4:1-2). A temptation implies that something is wrong. But, what was wrong with obtaining political power? Look at all the good he could do, all the changes he could make if only he had political power. Unlike Adam though, Jesus saw the trap! He could see that the actual temptation was not worship. It was power. The offer on the table, the bait in the trap was political power. And, that was the snare. The desire for power was the vehicle Satan wanted to use to compromise Jesus, irrevocably. That was how Satan planned to maneuver Jesus exactly into the place he wanted him; seeking power. ‘I will give you the governance of all the nations of the earth.’ Jesus knew, and Satan did too, that whatever tantalizes us, consumes us, captivates us, drives us, and directs us is what we actually worship.
Satan wanted Jesus to wield political power. Let that sink in for a minute. Satan, not God, wanted Jesus to have political power. (If Satan wants us to have something, that alone is cause enough to avoid it.) But, Jesus did not fall for it, not for a second. He utterly spurned any ambition or justification for securing even an iota of political power.
What about us? Do we, like Jesus, see the trap that’s laid for us? Do we understand that Jesus repelled the temptation to acquire political power, and that he expects us to refuse the desire for it, as well? Jesus did not participate in politics. He did not engage it. He did not argue with it or about it. He did not organize around it, or against it. He did not post about it. He did not vilify the evil, very bad Caesar. He never said anything remotely approximating, “If only we could vote a Christian into the Palace (or White House!), we would have the power to change the nation.” Jesus knew better than to fall for that lie! He fought that precise battle in the temptation in the wilderness. And, won! How? By denying any appetite for political power or influence, and the appeasement with, and the absorption in the world that desire truly is. Instead, he declared and demonstrated his now present kingdom. He singularly gave himself to his Father’s work, to his Father’s kingdom, to his Father’s way of love, mercy, service, sacrifice, goodness, meekness, humility, gentleness, care of the poor and the suffering, surrender, obedience and death – and he changed the world.
If only we could see that. If only we could see him, and do the same. We are facing our own temptation in the wilderness. Jesus had to overcome his temptation before he could launch his public ministry. So do we. Christians often pronounce a coming revival. Not so fast buckaroos. We have to make it through our wilderness temptation, too. You know, the one we’re in right now. What if Jesus had taken the bait? What if he had sought political power? What makes us think we are any different, or that the scenario is any different? Well, it isn’t. So, I urge Christians to reject the temptation to entangle themselves with political forces, causes, parties, and powers. We’ve been shown a different way. We should follow it.
1.Note: (You may remember that after feeding the 5000, the people wanted to scoop up Jesus and make him king. What did he do? He took off and hid in the hills. John 6; And, again during the entrance into Jerusalem on what we call palm Sunday the people wanted to make him king. Palms were a symbol of Jewish nationalism with its origins at the time of the Maccabees. Instead of entering on a war stallion he chose a little donkey. Instead of ascending to an empirical throne he laid himself on a cross.)