Unmasking the Beast

We all have our limits, and I just reached mine. Draconian mask mandates and quarantine requirements have scuttled our Thanksgiving plans. The out-of-towners who were going to come to our place next week cannot come now because of “the rules.” Thank you, governors. It’s hard to believe this is still the United States of America.

I get it. The virus is serious to certain segments of the population. Those in the vulnerable categories need to do what they must in order to keep themselves safe. And no one is advocating reckless behavior on the part of anyone. But has there ever been a pandemic in history where the healthy were required to isolate themselves? Moreover, if the last lockdown worked, why are we having to lock down again? And if the last lockdown didn’t work, why are we, uhm, having to lock down again? They keep playing us, and we keep letting them.

Some state regulators across the country are even telling us we have to mask up in our own homes. No. That’s not going to happen in this household just because the state says so. If you want to wear a mask in my house, you’re free to do so. I might even wear one, too, if you happen to be edgy about my not having one. Basic kindness is willing to do such things.

Additionally, I’ll mask up when I come into your store because it’s your store. Same thing at church if that’s what it takes to prevent others from thinking I’m a hazard to their health. But the state will not tell me that I have to wear a mask in my own home. Nor will I let them peer through my windows to enforce their squidgy little mandates. There’s a Fourth Amendment in this country for a reason.

Besides, this is Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. Don’t tread on us. We rightly snubbed our nose at the edicts of our [adjective deleted] governor when all this lunacy began, and we paid the price for it. In a rank display of petty party petulance a few months ago, he re-opened every county in the state but ours, delaying us by a week, just for retribution. How courageous of him. After marching in a protest without social distancing, he now wants to tell everybody else how to live. “Rules for thee but not for me.” 

Likewise, the U.S. Speaker of the House got her hair blown out a couple months back contrary to her own rules. Ditto the mayor of Chicago, a senator from California, and the governor of the same state, who recently yucked it up unmasked at a posh restaurant, contrary to his own mandates. One can be forgiven for believing these requirements are all just political posturing; otherwise, our overlords would happily and consistently comply with their own rules. But they don’t. So, here’s an idea. Now that so many statues have been torn down in this country, there’s plenty of room for new sculptures of these folks to take their place. I have a feeling more than just the pigeons would use them.

A therapist once told me that a discernible pattern in my life has been that I tend to over-submit to authority. He was right. (It’s a malady rooted no doubt in being the middle child growing up, along with a variety of other family of origin issues.) But no mas. Somebody’s got to push back on this ridiculousness.

I’ve never been a revolutionary, but tyranny tends to kindle a spirit of resistance inside those who’ve had enough. Holding a posture of defiance and insurrection is certainly no way to live life over the long haul, but on occasion, it’s warranted. This is one of those occasions, especially as we hear politicians prepping us now for “The Great Reset” to come, another globalist dream that will end in a nightmare. 

Now, before any super-spiritual types try to insist that believers are just supposed to shut up and “surrender our rights” all over the place in order to be Christlike, keep in mind that Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship more than once in Acts 22-23. Was he wrong to do so? No, he was just standing on his own history, not to mention the prerogatives that come with being a free moral agent made imago Dei. In our day, being a good citizen in a constitutional republic means participating in it, not mindlessly clicking our heels and saluting whenever bogus state decrees are issued.

There are, in fact, numerous accounts of civil disobedience in Scripture—a practice that resurfaces whenever the state exceeds its authority. Until then, believers comply, and happily so. We’re not the kind of people who go looking for fights. We want to be good citizens in the countries where we find ourselves across the world. But when the line is crossed, believers push back, willing to face whatever consequences a feckless state might try to throw at us.

In Exodus 1, for example, the Egyptian Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all the male Jewish babies who were recently born. An extreme patriot would have carried out the government’s order, yet the story tells us the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh and “feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (Exod 1:17). The account goes on to say the midwives lied to Pharaoh about why they were letting the children live; yet even though they lied and disobeyed their government, “God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, he established households for them” (Exod 1:2021). Quite significantly, we know the names of these two midwives (Shiphrah and Puah), but we’re never told the name of the Pharaoh who issued the evil edict.

In Joshua 2, Rahab disobeyed a direct command from the king of Jericho to produce the Israelite spies who had entered the city to gain intelligence for battle. Instead, she let them down by a rope so they could escape. Even though Rahab had received a clear order from the top government official, she resisted the command and was spared from the city’s destruction when Joshua and the Israeli army destroyed it. 

The book of 1 Samuel records a command given by King Saul during a military campaign that no one could eat until Saul had won his battle with the Philistines. However, Saul’s son Jonathan, who had not heard the order, ate honey to refresh himself from the hard battle the army had waged. When Saul found out about it, he ordered his son to die. However, the people resisted Saul and his command, and they saved Jonathan from being put to death (1 Sam 14:45). 

Another example of civil disobedience, which poses no threat to the general practice of biblical submission, is found in 1 Kings 18. That chapter briefly introduces a man named Obadiah who “feared the Lord greatly.” When Queen Jezebel was killing God’s prophets, Obadiah took a hundred of them and hid them from her so they could live. Such an act was in clear defiance of the ruling authority’s wishes. 

In 2 Kings, we read of an apparently approved revolt against a reigning government official. Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, began to destroy the royal offspring of the house of Judah. However, Joash the son of Ahaziah was taken by the king’s daughter and hidden from Athaliah so that the bloodline would be preserved. Six years later, Jehoiada gathered men around him, declared Joash to be king, and put Athaliah to death. 

The book of Daniel records a number of examples of civil disobedience. The first is found in chapter 3 where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden idol in disobedience to King Nebuchadnezzar’s command. The second is in chapter 6 where Daniel defies King Darius’ decree to not pray to anyone other than the king. In both cases, God rescued his people from the death penalty that was imposed, indicating his approval of their actions. Likewise, Esther showed great courage in exile by confronting the king directly, declaring, “If I perish, I perish.”

In the New Testament, the book of Acts records the civil disobedience of Peter and John toward the authorities that were in power at the time. After Peter healed a man born lame, Peter and John were arrested and put in jail for preaching about Jesus. The religious authorities were determined to shut them up, but Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Later, the rulers confronted the apostles again and reminded them of their command to not teach about Jesus, but Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). 

In the book of Revelation, we read of “the beast,” who commands everyone to worship an image of himself. But the apostle John, who wrote the Apocalypse, states that all who become believes during that period will disobey the beast and his government, refusing to worship the image (Rev 13:15), just as Daniel’s companions violated Nebuchadnezzar’s decree to worship his idol. 

I need to study the biblical theme of civil disobedience more in depth, but this is a start. As noted above, we’re told that “The Great Reset” is coming. That may be so, but it will not come with my acquiescence. I’ve been overly compliant for too long. Will anyone come see me in jail if that’s where I land? Or write me a letter? If my next assignment in this life is to have a prison ministry, so be it. I don’t think I’ll look too good in an orange jumpsuit, but Paul’s life shows us how much good can be done for the gospel in prison. 

Several years ago, the mayor of Houston floated the idea of pastors being required to submit the text of their sermons to the government for review—to see if any preachers were speaking against their latest deranged pet policies. Talk about government overreach. I remember thinking at the time, “No. That’s not going to happen here. Ever. I will never reduce myself to preaching only state-approved sermons.”

The fact that politicians would even think about doing such a thing unmasks them as part of the beast. They shouldn’t be surprised, then, when some people develop a 2A affection because their 4A was violated.

Image Credits: patriotdepot.com.

‘Give to Caesar’: Jesus, Politics, and Uncle Sam

It’s Election Day here in the United States, and the presidency—our nation’s highest office—is on the ballot again. This happens every four years, but the campaign never seems to end. In fact, tomorrow the presidential push for 2024 will begin anew. Few people look forward to this quadrennial spectacle, but that’s how we roll in the good ole U.S.A. The nation is severely polarized again, and many of us have grown weary of the incessant political theater. It’s in our faces every day, depending on what we allow on our screens. The OFF button is a beautiful thing.

I was voter #262 this morning at our polling place. The line was long, but the volunteers were doing an excellent job of keeping us moving. Nearly everyone in our section was showing some form of I.D. to the registrars even though it’s not legally required. We were showing it on principle—a minor protest of sorts. Many of us thought identification should be required to vote. How do they know it’s really us? That should matter not only here in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, but in every state in the union.

Some people live and breathe politics. I do not. Some people ignore the process altogether. I do not. A famous scene from the life of Jesus grants me the posture of balanced engagement from a thoughtful distance—one that’s realistic, non-Utopian, participatory, and respectful. If others wish to be more engaged, so be it. Good government requires good people. The encounter in Mark 12:13-17 reads as follows:

13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him. 

Here in the West, there are two things we usually don’t talk about in polite company—politics and religion. The reason for that is obvious. The subject of politics is controversial, so we tend to avoid it to keep the peace. The subject of religion is controversial, too, so we tend to avoid it for the same reason. (It’s not like this everywhere in the world, but it is here, so we go with the flow, looking for gospel opportunities whenever they might present themselves.)

Instead of talking about politics and religion at work and family gatherings, we talk about the weather, sports, hobbies, technology, pop culture, and the latest news coming out of the Kardashian family. We stay shallow so we don’t have to argue. But even more controversial than the subject of politics or religion themselves is the subject of politics and religion together. What is the proper relationship between the two? Raise that issue, and there’s a grenade ready to explode.

As it is today, so it was in the 1st century. When Mark 12 opens, Jesus is responding to a barrage of questions, and one of those questions is basically this: “Jesus, what are your politics? And how do your politics relate to your religion?” We expect an explosion, and we get one, but not the kind we might have expected. The questioners raise a specific hot button issue to smoke Jesus out politically. They’re trying to get him to come down on one side of the aisle or the other. “Jesus, are you red or blue? Are you liberal or conservative? Are you with us or with them?”

Jesus says in response (Tim’s paraphrase): “You know, guys, this isn’t my circus, and these aren’t my monkeys. And, while you’re at it, ‘Send in the clowns. Don’t bother, they’re here.’”

Well, maybe his response isn’t that derisive, but he does deal with the question obliquely—intentionally so. He has to teach them something before making a pronouncement on policy. Something more important than politics. Here are a few takeaways from the passage for me, presented in outline form:

1. Jesus rejects political SIMPLICITY.

That is, political sloganeering isn’t going to work with Jesus.

a.  Jesus is asked a “gotcha question” by strange bedfellows; it’s a clear trap rooted in the controversial head tax implemented 25 years earlier, which launched a bloody revolt led by Judas the Galilean.

b.  If Jesus says, “No, don’t pay the tax,” he would reveal himself to be a zealot, calling for an armed revolt against the state and the establishment of a new earthly kingdom.

c.  If Jesus says, “Yes, pay the tax,” he would reveal himself to be a mystic, calling for total compliance to the state and the establishment of a new (merely) spiritual kingdom.

d.  If Jesus says, “I won’t answer the question at all,” he would reveal himself to be a cynic, calling for a total abandonment of the state and the establishment of a new cloistered kingdom.

e.  Jesus doesn’t dodge the question in the end; rather, he reframes it in order to set forth a higher understanding of the kingdom of God.

2. Jesus rejects political COMPLACENCY.

That is, political abandonment isn’t going to work with Jesus.

a.  Using the coin that’s given to him, Jesus teaches that “Caesar” is entitled to a certain amount of allegiance from the citizens under his authority.

b.  Jesus does not allow his followers to “opt out of the system” and become completely non-political; they are called to function within the established order of the day. 

c.  Jesus affirms that the state has a measure of legitimate authority to conduct its affairs and provide for the common good through taxation.

d.  The rest of the New Testament shows how the followers of Christ can function as good citizens in whatever country they live (e.g., Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-17).

3. Jesus rejects political PRIMACY.

That is, political Utopianism isn’t going to work with Jesus.

a.  Using the coin that is given to him, Jesus teaches that God, not “Caesar,” is entitled to ultimate allegiance from the people he has created. (You bear the image of God, so give yourself to God.)

b.  Jesus does not allow his followers to “depend on the system” and put all their hope in politics; they are called to address the ills of this world through spiritual means as well.

c.  Because the believer’s highest allegiance is to God, Jesus implies there are times when his followers may have to stand against “Caesar” and his requirements.

d.  The rest of the New Testament shows how the followers of Christ resisted the state, sometimes at great personal cost, when it usurped the authority of God (e.g., Acts 4:19-20, 5:28-29, 22:22-29; Rev 13:15).

Some Reflections

a.  The followers of Christ are to obey the earthy king—until that earthly king usurps the authority of the heavenly King.

b.  The brilliant and nuanced answer Jesus gives explodes our political categories. Believers are to be good citizens and loving revolutionaries at the same time.

c.  What could make a person both a good citizen and a loving revolutionary at the same time? Only Christ, and him crucified—the “King without a quarter,” as Tim Keller puts it.

d.  What kind of a king has no money? What kind of a king doesn’t have a quarter to his name such that he has to ask for one to be brought to him?

  • Only a King who is poor by choice.
  • Only a King who gives away his wealth.
  • Only a King who surrenders his power to empower others. 
  • Only a King who gives his life for the sake of the people he rules over.

e.  Unlike many politicians who amass power for themselves, King Jesus surrenders it all for the sake of a loving revolution—a revolution that actually revolutionizes revolutions.

f.  The Apostle Paul wrote: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

g.  Whatever the election results are tonight (or tomorrow, or in the coming days or weeks), King Jesus will still be on his throne.

So, who did I vote for today? As you probably could have guessed, I’m not going to tell you. It’s a secret ballot for a reason. And that’s especially important to me as a minister of Jesus Christ. If my politics ever become a stumbling block to others who do not yet know him, I have failed miserably in putting first things first. What I’m willing to reveal is what I’ve already written on the About page:

Political convictions? Yes, we have them, but we’re not completely sold on either of the major political parties in the United States. In fact, neither party wants us nor claims us as their own, and we’re o.k. with that. It allows us to address the issues of the day from a non-partisan, worldview perspective. It also allows us to practice civil disobedience when our conscience demands it, as happens periodically throughout the Scriptures.

Sometimes we think the Republicans are right. Sometimes we think the Democrats are right. All the time we think King Jesus is right. In the end, we believe that politics, like humanity, is broken, so we pray for all the civil magistrates and governing officials as the Bible directs, even the ones we severely disagree with. Let’s aim higher and find another way to be friends.

Image Credits: mycanyonlake.com; rectorymusings.co.uk; ldsliberty.org; pexels.com.