My Way or His Cross

For the disciple of Jesus, rage, and violence are NOT appropriate reactions to hostility. Certainly, his instructions in this regard are contrary to the “wisdom of this age” and difficult to obey. Nevertheless, angry responses to perceived or even real violations of our political and individual “rights” only demonstrate how far many of us have strayed from the Crucified One’s teachings and practices.

The issue is not whether the citizens of a country have individual rights and liberties, or whether democracy, autocracy, or monarchy is the better form of government. For the man who would follow Jesus, the question is, how is he to live within whatever political or societal structure in which he finds himself?

Dark Road - Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash
[Photo by Dave on Unsplash]

Every disciple is summoned to a life of obedience and sacrifice for Jesus and his Kingdom, and that life orientation is incompatible with one centered on prioritizing one’s own needs and desires.

Let us begin by considering the issue of persecution. If we become angry over even verbal insults to our faith, how will we respond to serious persecution when it comes? Would we take to the streets in protest, or perhaps riot against our persecutors? Is that what Jesus did?

Instead of the typical human reaction, Jesus instructed HIS disciples to “rejoice and leap for joy” whenever “men hate you and ostracize you, and profane you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man…for great is your reward in heaven.” This is in stark contrast to our human tendency to lash out at every insult or perceived infringement on our “rights” - (Matthew 5:10-12).

Jesus left us a real-world example of how we are to show mercy, especially to enemies and persecutors. In Gethsemane, an armed mob approached him, determined to haul him before the High Priest for questioning.

Peter reacted by cutting the ear off the High Priest’s servant. If ever there was a man innocent of all charges, it was Jesus.  Surely, this was an incident where violence committed in his defense was justified. Had not the mob come armed with clubs to arrest the Messiah of Israel on trumped-up charges?

Jesus did the unexpected. He touched the man and healed his ear. He was under no illusions about what was coming. Not many days previously he had warned the disciples that he would be “betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes. And they will condemn him to death… and they shall mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him.”

THE APOSTLES


After his resurrection, the disciples took his teachings to heart. When Peter and the Apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin, beaten, and ordered to cease preaching, rather than respond in kind, they went their way “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

Likewise, after being beaten and imprisoned for preaching the Gospel, Paul and Silas spent the night “praying and singing hymns to God” from their prison cell - (Acts 5:41, 16:23-25).

Jesus exhorted anyone who would follow him to “love your enemies, to pray for them who persecute you,” to extend mercy to every “enemy” who abuses you. An act of mercy to an enemy is how the disciple emulates God and becomes “perfect” as He is - (Matthew 5:38-48).

He was the only truly righteous man ever to live. If anyone deserved respect for his “rights,” Jesus did. Yet rather than be served, he came “to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” This he did by enduring a horrific and unjust death for his friends and “enemies.” Conforming to his example is how his disciple becomes “great in the kingdom of God” - (Matthew 20:28, Romans 5:10).

When interrogated, beaten, and reviled before the High Priest, Jesus reviled not in return. While suffering on a Roman cross, he prayed that his Father would “forgive them, for they know not what they do” - (Matthew 27:39, Mark 15:32, Luke 23:34).

Scripture portrays persecution for the Gospel as something disciples should expect and endure. Not only so, but to suffer for Jesus is a great privilege and honor, a matter of great rejoicing.

Through loud protests and legal machinations, we may avoid persecution but then unwittingly rob ourselves of something of infinitely greater value.

The notion of inviolate civil “rights” that must be defended at all costs is incompatible with New Testament teachings on discipleship, mercy, suffering, and the forgiveness of enemies. Failure to do so makes us unworthy of the Master who led the way. To become the “greatest” in HIS Kingdom one must first become the “slave and servant of all.”

The Apostle Paul gave up his “right” to take a wife for the sake of the ministry. Likewise, he had the right to expect financial support from his churches, but he often abstained from it and supported himself through manual labor to help further the Gospel - (Acts 18:3, 1 Corinthians 4:11-12, 9:1-14).

In contrast to this world, its ideologies, and political systems, the followers of Jesus are offered the privilege of serving God’s Kingdom, and the enormous honor of enduring insults, hatred, rejection, and persecution on behalf of its king, along with everlasting rewards that far outweigh any losses we may incur in this life while we wait for his return.


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