When Jesus stood before Pilate some very telling words were spoken by the politician to the prophet. Pilate said, “Do you not know that I have the power to grant your freedom or to crucify you?” To this Jesus said, “You only have the power my Father gives you.” (John 19:10-11). Here is the juxtaposition of the natural man and the spiritual man, the carnal mind and the mind of Christ, the political way and the way of truth. The reality is that Jesus was the only truly free man precisely because He did not live in the fear of people’s opinions or the fear of man. Jesus does not defend Himself. Jesus does not consider how He can save His life. Jesus doesn’t manipulate or place some political duress on Pilate. Instead, Jesus tests Pilate’s commitment to truth and justice.
Another conversation between the politician and the prophet is equally revealing of the contrast of these two ways, the political and the spiritual. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this realm. If it were my servants would be fighting. Indeed, to be a king I came into this world. For this reason I came into the world, to testify of the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
There is a political realm in which men succeed, and there is a spiritual realm in which men succeed. You cannot have both. These two ways are at enmity with each other. Eventually, and actually quite often, the truth will contradict political considerations. The truth will be a liability for the politician, and the truth will need to be compromised for political reasons. "What then is the politician to do?" Well, Pilate gives us the answer when he says, “What is truth?” Truth to the politician is a political construct. To the politician, truth is whatever the powerful say it is. But truth is NOT a political construct. Truth is from God and is what it is. Truth is reality whether it is politically expedient of not. So how did Jesus live in light of political dynamics?
Jesus was fearless. Jesus lived perfectly aware of political realities, and He refused to play politics and actually intentionally surfaced the sinfulness and selfish motives of those in political power. For example, Jesus knew he had conflict in Jerusalem and knew that if he surfaced the hypocrisy of the political elite, they would crucify Him. Jesus predicted this outcome. So what did He do? Jesus fearlessly pressed the issue and rode into Jerusalem. He went straight to the temple, turned over the tables, and said, “You greedy money-changers have made my Father’s house into a den of robbers. My Father’s house shall be a house of prayer for all ethnicities.” The Jewish leaders had a racket going where they made money off the fact that families that were not ethnic Hebrews had to exchange their currency to pay their tithes. So they took a profit from the exchange. Jesus hit the political powers right where it hurts, in the pocket book. The result was that He angered those in power and six days later Jesus was dead.
Was it only Jesus that acted this way? Was Jesus the only prophetic figure that called the powers that be hypocrites and sinners to His own physical harm? No, actually all biblical leaders act contrary to what is politically expedient. John the Baptist told Herod he could not marry his brother’s wife so Herod killed him. Paul was told he would be beaten and killed if he went to Jerusalem so Paul went to Jerusalem. Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace but division.” Anyone who testifies to the truth, even with all their faults, will suffer. Yes, people will make up excuses and lies to justify their rejection of the word of God but in reality the problem is all political. Politics is the enemy of the truth.
So can we have our cake and eat it too? Here is the BIG, BIG question!!!! Why “step in it” all the time? Why act in such a way as to cause conflict? Why didn’t Jesus or John or Paul just play politics for the sake of the ministry? Think about it. Jesus could have played the game and healed the sick at the same time. Jesus could have pleased the carnal people and still done His ministry to the needy and would have ended up with a world wide healing ministry. Jesus was very popular with the weaker half of the people and all He had to do was play His politics and He could have done so much good. Paul could have just taken other people’s counsel and avoided the whole ugly problem of getting one’s head chopped off. John the Baptist could have just let this one little act of adultery slide and he could have been an apostle. But no, all these prophetic men had to speak out and press the issue. There are many very important lessons to learn from the lives of the prophets.
First, the prophets lived with no fear and this fearlessness was the core of their blessedness. Fear is the source of so much sorrow. Jesus or Paul could have played good politics but then they would not have led all of us out of fear into the kingdom. Jesus is our leader and we follow Him out of fear into happiness. Fear and politics is the enemy. Fearlessness and the truth is the answer though it comes with suffering. Those prophets on the side of truth live the truly happy and heavenly life in which there is no fear. In no instance can these men of God chose fear and politics over obedience and courage. This fearlessness is a witness to the path of peace.
Secondly, true leadership surfaces problems and surfaces sin. True leadership does not play politics and people please. If leaders in the church make decisions by taking polls and considering political or financial ramifications, they have ceased, in the instance, following Christ. This principle is a complete indictment of the seeker sensitive approach. The seeker sensitive approach is not bad because it seeks to use wise means to win the lost but because it actually articulates the motive for using wise means as being seeker sensitive. In other words, if the motive is fear of people or people pleasing, then the approach is completely carnal and Godless. It is being “sensitive” (which is another word for fearful) of people’s opinions and catering to people’s preferences which has created the consumeristic attitudes in the church. We, the church, have lost our way because we have lost our prophetic edge.
We have dummied-down and watered down the gospel for the sake of the middle-class and in so doing have undermined our mission to make disciples who take up the cross while it is the cross that is the path of discipleship.
The conclusion of the matter is this: No matter what people say never avoid conflict for political motives. What people call pastoral these days is nothing more than being an enemy of the truth and compromising the truth. This approach is not the way of the cross, the way of Christ. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say, “I may not be the nicest guy but I am right”. In other words, people may not like me, but I speak the truth. I may not be a schmoozer but I am a preacher. Lloyd-Jones wasn’t nice and neither was Jesus. The preacher must never be a schmoozer or a politician. To do so is simply to cease following Christ and, instead, for at least that moment, to follow Pilate, the politician.