We live in community – there is no doubt about that. Many things decided within a community impact our lives even though we might not agree with it. Sometimes unconditional obedience is demanded from us, as we have all experienced during Covid regulations.
The words of Jesus to his disciples often served to set them apart from the community and to segregate Kingdom principles from “church” principles. It was clear that the “church” (the Jewish religious leaders and the running of the Temple in Jerusalem) to which He came was a dysfunctional, corrupt and loveless organization run by self-centred, judgmental leaders who were quick to exclude and slow to comfort.
The people of Palestine, as this troublesome outpost of the Roman Empire at the time, was called, were hurting, heartbroken and disease-ridden. Their history since their great King David was one long sorry story of backsliding from their God and political humiliation. They longed for the golden era of being a nation of miracles, called to lead the nations in spiritual and moral uprightness. They have failed to live up to the high calling of Yahweh to live the salvation of the one true God to demonstrate his love for mankind. They lived in a longing for past glory and a flailing hope for future redemption, promised by leaders who interpreted the law of Moses and the demands of God in an ever more taxing way. Above all they had to contend with the cruel iron fist of Roman rule, impatient and tyrannical. They lived without sympathy, love or comfort.
There was no empire like the Roman Empire in the whole history of mankind. Ancient Rome with its base in the city of Rome flourished from the eighth century BC to more or less 500AD.
Take a step back and visualize a timeline. For a thousand years this mighty, monster of government, military and law ruled an astonishing huge part of the known world. They ruled over 90 million people and 8 million square kilometers.
Ancient Roman civilisation has contributed to modern language, religion, society, technology, law, politics, government, warfare, art, literature, architecture and engineering. Rome professionalised and expanded its military and created a system of government called res publica, which became the inspiration for modern republics.
It achieved impressive technological and architectural feats, such as the construction of an extensive system of aqueducts (for the provision of water to a city) and roads as well as the construction of large monuments, palaces, and public facilities.
Still very little is said about this impressive ancient Empire in the Bible. It is significant that Jesus is born when the Empire is at its height of status and might. Jesus came and established Christianity without a mention of this earthly powerhouse. He did not proclaim conquest; He did not push his people for positions in government; He did not vie for any kind of political or religious or traditional power. He taught and healed and loved in a troublesome outpost of the Empire and never left its borders. He almost never mentioned the Caesar except talking about the taxes. He dies on a Roman cross after a distorted process of confusion and anger conducted by the Jews with their high regard for the Law of Moses and a twisted, clumsy hearing by the an official of the Roman legal process.
Although Roman Law is very impressive and the foundation of most modern legal systems, it operated on a basis of no lives matter. If you were a Roman citizen found guilty your death, was a bit more “humane” – beheading or poison. At least you could avoid crucifixion.
The message to us in our modern times is that the world, the people and the government can do its most evil and oppressive best – God will look after his own. He will provide the tax – even from the mouth of a fish (Matthew 17:27) and encourage you to pay the tax even if you feel it is crippling and corrupt. Give to the Caesar what belongs to him (Matthew 22:21). Life in God is simple and peaceful, with no panic about burning streets, foolish public opinion, outrageous political actions and agendas and the destruction and persecution of every moral truth that suggests a life of higher principle.
One day, around the Sea of Galilee, we find Jesus in easy casual conversation with his disciples. He often spoke to them alone. He trained them and equipped them, all in conversation and non-demanding words. If it were confronting and challenging conversations, it was designed to engage and educate with the purpose of deeper insight and revelation.
Jesus starts with an easy question:
Who do the people say I am?
The disciples answer: Some say Elijah, Moses, a prophet, John the Baptist, etc.
That was the easy answer.
Suddenly Jesus turns it and makes it personal.
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Trust the ever-audacious Peter to blurt it out.
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16: 13-20)
Jesus pronounces the words of Peter as the rock on which the church will be built. This could be explained with the saying in English: You are a chip of the old block. Jesus says to Peter here: You are a chip of the old Rock. The Rock is revelation-knowledge.
This is the foundation of our entire belief system called Christianity and the basic principle of living in the presence of God that will distinguish us from all other, including the nominal Christians in the church, living powerless, defeatist lives void of any inspiration or hope, denying the miraculous gifts of the Spirit and supernatural intervention of our loving Father.
In the confronting… yes very direct, words of Jesus: but you…what about you, we find a delightful and inspiring concern for the individual. He could have said these words to the crowds, maybe He has. So much is not written. John says all the books in the world could not contain the story of Jesus (John 21:25).
But here the words are directed to the disciples. In the midst of oppression and political defeat, corrupt leaders and dysfunctional church, Jesus provokes individual thinking and response. It is not the only time He does it.
But when you do a charitable deed… (Matthew 6:3)
But you, when you pray… (Matthew 6:6)
But you, when you fast… (Matthew 6:17)
Fasting praying and giving are three principles of power in our lives without which the normal Christian life cannot function. A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped. (Ecclesiastes 4:12, The Message)
Just like so many other principles of just living, it is not dependent on any group action, any corporate cooperation or any government bail-out plan. We stand before God and our Father sees every individual who cries out for help. He promises insight and revelation knowledge to make sense of our chaotic world.
Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’ (Jeremiah 33:3)
He promises protection and provision in any circumstances (Philippians 4:6-8) and comfort in persecution and suffering (2 Corinthians 4:8,9).
Nothing is too hard for the Lord (Jeremiah 32:17) and no mess to big for him to bring out the beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:1-3), turn the curse into a blessing (Nehemiah 13:2) and make everything work out for good (Romans 8:28).
Jesus did not address slavery as an institution, corrupt and cruel government systems or crippling tax policies with unrighteous tax collectors, betraying their own people. His most scathing and sharpest words were directed to the false doctrine and proud pretense of the “church” of the day – meaning the Temple and the Jewish religious leaders. They should have known better and the deep disappointment of expectation of what they should and could have been, was at the receiving end of Jesus’ criticism. In an unfair world where a life was worth nothing, He promised individual solutions for everything including those caught in the brutal and atrocious structure of slavery.
What if He did? Wouldn’t we always look to the changing of some sort of system, government, institution or policy as a path to our salvation or bringing us redemption from the horrors of evil and broken people? Our eyes would always be on fallible, earthly charity and leaders.
Our eye should look up all the while when we soar up to enter the door of revelation that is open and welcoming with the Voice of God saying: Come and see. (Revelation 4:1)