The Gospel Agenda, Acts 1:4-8 (Sermon), Part 3

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The Republican mindset says that we live in a theocracy, that our leaders are chosen by God and that our laws should be governed by God’s Word. Look at the feature image above, the picture in this post. You can clearly see the words “In God We Trust,” correct? Well, these words demonstrate, as does the Declaration of Independence, that we believe “The Creator” has given us rights and that we have confidence in Him. But who is He? That’s the question. Not once do we read that Jesus was the God of the forefathers. There aren’t many statements you’ll find that state that “Jesus is the God the forefathers had in mind.” So, while they certainly believed in some Deity (contra Atheism), the forefathers weren’t necessarily Christian, either.

And, since there’s no known God selected by the forefathers (political documents merely mention a generic Creator), there’s little evidence that the Bible, even the King James Version or KJV, funded by King James I of England and released in 1611 (over 150 years before the Declaration of Independence was penned), was adopted as the “religious book of choice” for the Founding Fathers. Again, there’s an emphasis on “God” but not an emphasis on “Christ, God’s Son.” And it is the emphasis on Jesus, God’s Son, the Triune Godhead, that distinguishes Christianity from other faiths. It is this part we do not see the forefathers affirm.

So with that said, a number of religious groups that believe in a Creator can co-exist with Christians in our country, even though conservatives find their views problematic and unbiblical. And the Bible wasn’t the book of choice for the forefathers, so other faiths with other “books” can also co-exist peacefully here — even if Republicans cannot stomach Muslims, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even the Roman Catholic “Apocrypha” as possible sources of wisdom and spiritual truth.

But this discussion highlights what we’ve said in Parts 1 and 2 of what will seem to many to be a long sermon. We’ve explained how Republicans believe they live in a theocracy where the government is ruled by God. They believe that the Bible is the ultimate “political” document by which they live their lives. And yet, the phrases “one nation under God” and even “In God We Trust” are not Christocentric phrases that point to Jesus, but rather, theist statements that point to the existence of a Creator God, a generic Creator of some kind. So, in the same way Christians assert that “the nation was founded on biblical principles,” Native Americans can assert that these same statements also refer to their God, called “the Great Spirit.” Muslims can assert that the Founding Fathers had them in mind as well. What evangelical Christians can’t see in their erroneous thinking is that the nation is not founded on Christian principles. The nation has never committed to Jesus as God, or the Trinitarian idea of “one God in three persons.” So the nation was never based on the one true God, just a God of some form. Sure, there’s always been a belief in one God, just nothing further. The Founding Fathers never professed to be seminarians or theologians.

In Part 2, we talked about the idea that Republicans have: because they believe they live in a theocracy, they select their leaders according to what they believe are biblical, godly principles. They look for a leader who is against same-sex marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples. They look for someone who is anti-abortion and pro-life because God gives life and man is to not commit murder against innocent life. They believe abortion is murder against innocent life and that God is opposed to it. And so, in selecting their President and Vice President, they look for the same qualifications as they would look for in a Pastor. As the Pastor should be anti-abortion, they say, so should the President. But they forget that the President is neither Pastor, nor Savior. Choosing a President is not like choosing a Pastor because, while the Pastor is expected to give correct, spiritual counsel, the President’s job has nothing to do with spiritual counsel. Choosing a President for his spiritual advice is like choosing a mechanic, doctor, dentist, or hardware store based on spiritual advice. In those fields, spiritual advice is irrelevant to the job at hand.

Now in Part 3, we’re bringing all this together. In the same way evangelical Christians who vote Republican see the US as a theocracy, “one nation under God” (though the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t say “one nation under Jesus” or “Christ”), and in the same way they see the President as the nation’s “Pastor,” they see the political as the spiritual: that is, by voting in Presidential “Pastors” and by voting in pro-life and anti-homosexual leaders, they see themselves as defending “This Christian Nation,” and anticipate their war is over when God’s Coming Kingdom arrives on earth. The only problem with this is that they prioritize the vote for more than it is. Sure, the vote is political and is designed to improve things in our country, but it isn’t a vote for Heaven or Hell. It isn’t a vote that impacts one’s immortal soul, any more than choosing a BMW over a Jaguar or Rolls-Royce will send someone to Heaven or Hell. The political vote is not a spiritual vote for Jesus or Satan.

But this mindset doesn’t belong to just Republicans alone; no, it was the mindset of the Israelites in Jesus’ day, too. In Acts 1, we read that Jesus was preparing to ascend. He had been falsely accused, handed over by Judas, His chosen disciple, then convicted, sentenced, and crucified by the Romans. The Jews were under the foot of the Romans at that time; though the Romans crucified Jesus officially, the Jews handed Him over and let Barabbas, a criminal, go free.

So Jesus has died and risen from the dead here in Acts 1. And now, He is giving final instructions before returning to His Father in Heaven. He is telling them to wait for the promised Holy Spirit (the One He promised to send them, because He told them He would not abandon them in John’s Gospel (John 14:18). And it is at this very time that the disciples want to know when Jesus would bring about their political desire:

“Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?'” (Acts 1:6, NKJV)

The key phrase, “at this time,” shows how urgent a goal it was for them. The disciples were hoping that the time of restoration would be at that moment, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. They were hoping that everything that had happened before would build to this moment in which Jesus would achieve their political wish, their political goal, the aim for which their people had been longing for years. They wanted the kingdom restored to Israel. They wanted the Romans to get their proverbial knees off the Jews’ proverbial necks. They wanted their freedom from Roman occupation and rule. They wanted to be their own sovereign people again without foreign interference.

There is nothing wrong with wanting freedom for yourself and your people. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be free of slavery and chains. And so the Jews weren’t wrong because they wanted their freedom. In their shoes, who wouldn’t want to be free? Who wouldn’t want the chains of slavery to be broken? If we were in their position, we all would. As a biracial with an African-American mother, I can understand why my African ancestors longed for their freedom. Had I been in their shoes in chains, I too, would’ve longed for my freedom. No one wants to be in chains. No human was made by God to be enslaved, enchained, treated as less than human. It’s neither dignified nor humane to be treated as someone’s “chattel” instead of a human being made in God’s likeness and image.

So the Jews weren’t wrong to want their freedom. They weren’t wrong to long for freedom from Roman occupation. What they were wrong for, however, is making that their aim.

Think about it. Jesus has chosen them, twelve of them (though Judas departs and gives himself over to Satan before committing suicide). He has taught them about the coming Kingdom of God. They’ve seen Him heal the sick, raise the dead, give sight to the blind, open the ears of the deaf, heal the lame so they could leap, and so on. Jesus has even taught them who He is, and that He would be betrayed, convicted, crucified, and would rise on the third day. And after His death, He has done what no other did: He rose from the dead, never to die again. And after all this, you’d think the disciples would see it and understand that Jesus rose from the dead, He lives forever, His Kingdom is eternal and that His agenda is greater and worth more investment than anything in this world.

And yet, after seeing all this “out of this world” experience from Jesus, the disciples were here asking Jesus in so many words, “So, Lord, when are we gonna get to the good stuff?” As if to say, all the things that Jesus had done and said weren’t good on their own, but good only “if” they brought about their political goal of freedom from Roman rule. For them, all the things Jesus said and did were means for their political end: national freedom.

Little did they know that all they’d seen up to now WAS, and IS, “the good stuff,” and that the Gospel Agenda would only get better now that Jesus had arisen from the dead. But “the good stuff” wasn’t then, nor now, the political agenda. The “good stuff,” the best stuff, is the Gospel Agenda. And that isn’t the plan of man, but rather, the plan of God.

Part 4 is coming. Stay tuned.

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