I t’s happening. The U.S. presidential election year is in full swing and most of us can already see it’s getting quite feisty out there on the trail. Thus far this election cycle has proven to be one of the most contentious in election history. Politics are not only contentious in Washington, the term politics itself has become associated with divisiveness within our culture. So much so, that over the past few decades it has become a conversational faux pas to ever bring up your own personal political views in any group setting lest you offend someone who doesn’t agree.
Today the most criticized of all political views is the one whose faith in God and biblical worldview guides their politicking––a telltale sign that much of Western civilization has forgotten that its freedoms and moral codes originate from a Judaeo-Christian ethic.
What is at the heart of both Democrats and Republicans lately is fear, fear of the direction of our country, and there is no denying that it is changing rapidly. Some fear those who are working to put a stop to all the change that’s been made over that past few decades, while others fear those who are pushing for too much change. Whichever side you fall on, for the Christian fear is the last thing we’ve been called to, especially in politics.
I always think it’s fun to see how God has worked in the most archaic and pagan governments to advance the gospel all around the world through political systems. God’s redemption story has moved throughout human history via ancient politics and even today in modern politics. So before you say, “I can’t stand politics!” or “I fear the direction of our country!”; and after you’ve seen that last political commercial on TV, just look with me at how God moved throughout human history in politics to make Christ known.
1. King Cyrus’s New Refugee Policy
Israel’s history is full of ups and downs. If you want to feel like you’re on a spiritual roller coaster, just read the book of Judges. One of the most depressing moments in Israel’s history is the day the Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, flexed his political muscles and destroyed Jerusalem, razed Solomon’s Temple, and exiled the remaining Jewish people. I’m sure many Jewish people thought it was the end of their existence as believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
So before you say, “I can’t stand politics!” or “I fear the direction of our country!”; and after you’ve seen that last political commercial on TV, just look with me at how God moved throughout human history in politics to make Christ known.
Just about 70 years after King Nebuchadnezzar displaced all the Jewish people from their homeland through an act of force, a new king arose from a different empire to enact a new law. Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia, had a different view on what to do with people who were captured under the government of Babylon. Cyrus, like most new leaders, had a different view on how to manage an empire, and at that time (539 BC) Persia was the largest empire in the world.
Cyrus believed in returning all dispersed people to their national homeland. Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum said Cyrus’ political views were “the first attempt we know about running a society, a state with different nationalities and faiths — a new kind of statecraft.” Cyrus’s edict can be found specifically for the Jewish people in Ezra 1 and for all displaced peoples in one of the most significant archaeological finds in human history, the Cyrus Cylinder.
So you might be thinking, what does this have to do with advancing the gospel? Think of it like this. Thanks to Cyrus the Great and his political policy to repatriate those who were displaced, the Jewish people returned to their homeland to rebuild Jerusalem and wait for a king, a Messiah to be born among them. Less than 500 years later Jesus of Nazareth appeared; He grew up and ministered to the Jewish people in Israel as the prophets had promised. The Savior of the world shed His blood in Jerusalem because of God’s sovereignty moving in the life of Cyrus to pronounce a new political policy.
2. Jesus’ Life Was Surrounded By Politics
Jesus’ whole life was woven tightly into the fabric of the political systems of Judea and Rome. The moment He was announced to be the Messiah there was no separating Him from the political realm. Just take a look at the beginning of Matthew 2 where the most powerful man in Judea, Herod the Great, the king of Judea, felt threatened by the thought of a child that foreigners called the King of the Jews.
Even the title Messiah is a term associated with kingship and rule over an Israelite government with a global outreach. Look at what the prophet Isaiah had to say about the Messiah: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6). The Messiah would be the head of the government, and He wouldn’t simply rule Israel and the Jewish people, He would be the King of kings. Listen to this psalm: “He [Messiah] shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Psalm 72:8). The psalmist envisions the Messiah ruling from sea to sea!
Let’s go one step further. Jesus’ death was influenced by backroom politics. Politics in the Jewish world during Jesus’ life were a bit confusing and upside down. The high priests became the quasi rulers of the Jewish people: They were part of a group called the Sanhedrin, which had legislative and administrative power over Judea. However, the Sanhedrin’s political strength had limits set in place by the overarching power of the day: Rome.
Jesus was put on trial by the Sanhedrin because He threatened their power over the Jewish people, and even though Jesus was found innocent, they still considered Him guilty on charges of blasphemy.
The Sanhedrin wanted Jesus dead and out of the way, but within the political realm of Rome the Sanhedrin didn’t have the authority to enact capital punishment. So the high priest took Jesus to the Roman authority in Judea and had Him tried before Pontius Pilate. Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, was a significant political figure in the Roman world during the days of Jesus. The Jewish authority tried Jesus in the Roman court saying He’s claiming to be king, which is considered Roman treason. The Jewish authority used the angle that Jesus was an enemy of Rome and the punishment of treason is a shameful, embarrassing death through crucifixion.
Considering all of these political dealings surrounding the life and death of Christ, one might see them as a hindrance to the advancement of the gospel. Yet God used the Jewish and Roman political system to make the gospel a reality: Without the death and resurrection of Christ there is no gospel!
3. Roman Law Saved Paul’s Life
Paul purposely journeyed back to Jerusalem despite the warnings from his fellow believers that he could lose his life. When he arrived in Jerusalem he confidently walked right into the hornet’s nest, the Jewish Temple. Paul’s name was cursed among the religious Jewish leadership and even Law-keeping Jewish believers (Judaizers) at that time because they thought of him as a defector and traitor who taught Gentiles that they don’t have to keep all of the Law when they become believers in Jesus. And let’s not forget the false charges brought against Paul that he defiled the Temple by bringing a Gentile into its inner court.
With the Roman cohort and Judaizers surrounding Paul with the intent to kill him, he used his persecution as an opportunity to share how he came to faith in Jesus. The story of Paul’s life should have ended in Acts 21, but Paul had a bit of Roman law in his back pocket. Paul asked the Roman centurion, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” Immediately the demeanor of the Roman centurion changed as he confirmed Paul’s Roman citizenship. Under Roman law codes (Porcian and Julian law), a Roman citizen was protected from torture and couldn’t be punished until he was tried in court. Roman politics and law protected Paul’s life!
So how did Roman law help advance the gospel? The brouhaha between Paul and the Judaizers opened the door for Paul to fulfill his mission to bring the gospel to the center of the Gentile world! Think about it, because Paul is a Roman citizen he will be tried before Caesar, the king of the Gentile world, and this encounter with Caesar will provide Paul the opportunity to share about Jesus––the King of kings!
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So even though you may be fretting the outcome of this election season like many people I know, remember: The glorious message of the gospel will not be hindered. I know we all want the candidate of our choosing to win, and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as we are submitting our feelings to the will of God. Just remember, whether our candidate wins or loses, God, even today, uses politics and law to advance the message of the gospel globally. So do not fear.