“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law (Scribes) and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.”—Matthew 23:1-7
“And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”—Mark 8:15
“Then the chief priests and Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” Caiaphas did not say this on his own. Instead, as high priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also for the scattered children of God, to gather them together into one. So from that day on they plotted to kill Him.” —John 11:47-5
First, we must consider the political environment of Jesus’ day. There were no elections, the Romans ruled with an iron fist. But, they did not want to expend any more resources than necessary to control what they called “Judea”. During the period of Jesus’ ministry the Roman appointed Tetrarch was Herod Antipas. The Roman governor was Pontius Pilate. Together with the Sanhedrin they made up the body politic in Palestine at that time. The only real influence the Jewish population had over their own government had to do with the Sanhedrin, which consisted of two warring factions, the Sadducess and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were the aristocratic arm of the Sanhedrin, perhaps akin to our U.S. Senate, so typically tied to old family, old money. The Pharisees were the experts in the law. They were very scholastic and hyper-vigilant in their oversight. These two factions provided the day-to-day governance of the Jewish people, whether religious or political, and so long as there was quiet and the Jews paid their taxes the Romans could not have cared less about how they went about their business.
Whether Sadducee or Pharisee these were positions of status and power and wealth that were highly sought after. Consider the real concern of Caiaphas, “the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation“. What was their place? Their status, their power, their wealth.
Did Jesus engage the Sadducees or the Pharisees? Did he comment? Did he instruct the people as to how they ought to think and act when it came to these two groups? Oh, yes He did! I would challenge anyone to cite just one positive comment Jesus offered to or about the Pharisees. Just one. He ripped them to shreds, called them names and told them they were going to hell, in so many words. He called them out on their hypocrisy and their unrighteous, unjust behaviors. He spared little. So the notion that Jesus was apolitical is simply unfounded. The members of the Sanhedrin were not elected in the classic meaning of that term, but they were selected and one can only imagine the machinations involved in the selection process. The Sanhedrin was the high water mark of Jewish prestige and influence. As always, power corrupts. Nothing more, nothing less than politics as usual.
Could it be that many behind the pulpit today do not want to speak to what they consider political issues because they are worried about offending parishioners? Are they perhaps concerned about violating the Johnson Amendment which threatens their 501(c)(3) status, read non-profit tax status, wherein they might be penalized by having their tax exempt status revoked? You might well say, “But politics is divisive.” Yes, but so is the message of Jesus. The truth is always divisive. Consider, after three years of ministering in signs and wonders how many followers had Jesus retained? Jesus was very divisive and did not apologize for it.
We live in dynamic, stormy, even dangerous times. If the church does not supply its people with perspective, wisdom, and practical insight into how to negotiate these days then what good is it? I’m not talking about allegiance to a political party or particular candidate, I’m talking about applying Biblical truth to the issues of the day and supplying wise counsel. Politics is dirty. but politics is important. Does a Christian have an obligation to vote? If so, and I assume no one would suggest otherwise, then don’t we have an obligation to vote intelligently, from an educated position? From a biblical position? Voting party line is just laziness or the product of voting for the “home team”, the political party of our family, friends, etc. Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” I submit, “Party politics is the pablum of the masses.” Where might we go to hear the truth, Biblical truth applied to the issues of the day, if not in the church?
What were the issues facing the common man in Jesus’ time? Poverty, injustice, the state of the “church”, that is the religious system of the day, that emphasized externals over inner motivation, over heart. If Jesus were living today in America would He be silent as to injustice, corruption, the poor, the hyper-religious who place the letter of the law above the spirit of the law? Would He have a position on abortion, on war, on corruption? In His time he really never addressed the Gentiles or the unbelievers, rather His message was directed at His own people. Would it be any different today? If He warned the people re the “leaven of Herod” would He not speak to the leaven of the Governor or the President?
Where was the church in Germany in the 1930’s during the rise of Hitler and the Nazis? Hitler and his party didn’t just take over, they were voted into power. Did the church ever step up and challenge the politics of the day? Nope. Silence. There were precious few Bonhoffers, willing to pay the price for speaking out.
Reading our Bible and praying are good things to do, but at some point action is required. Queen Esther comes to mind and the words of Mordecai, “Who knows that you were not born for such a time as this.” What if Esther never took action, never risked her own place, perhaps her own life, by approaching the king? The Jews would have been slaughtered. Period. I humbly submit, that if you are alive in this time and place, Mordecai’s query is still applicable… “Who knows that you were not born for such a time as this?”