Reflections on Being a Disciple of Jesus and The Deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas Police Officers
If you are like me, the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille of this week have left you in shock, tears and disbelief. Then, as someone who lives in Dallas, the deaths of Dallas Police Officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol , Patrick Zamarripa and DART Police officer Brent Thompson happening on streets that I have walked so many times, it is hard to know even where to begin.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Our lives begin to end the day that we become silent about things that matter." This post is an effort to do just that.
The question I am seeking to provide leadership on is: "How as a disciple of Jesus do we respond to these events?"
The first place I want to point us to is Jesus's cleansing of the Temple in Mark 11 and John 2.
Mark 11.15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
In Jesus's day, Jerusalem was the center city for much of life and the temple a central point in that city as it was known as the place where you could meet with God. People would come, Jews and non-Jews alike to offer sacrifices, pray, listen to the Scriptures and worship.
Over time, some had set up a system to sell animals for sacrifice to those traveling in from afar. Whether from the onset or over time, this system evolved into charging inflated prices to prey on the foreigners and outsiders. Bible scholars also note that this marketplace was set up in the prayer courts of the foreigners (Gentiles)- thus marginalizing and deterring a foreigners ability to utilize the temple in the way God had intended (a house of prayer). Jesus is clear on the motives of those involved in this systemic abuse- they were robbers.
With that as the backdrop, let us look at what Jesus does:
First, as a Jewish male, these practices would not have directly affected him. He could have passed on through, unfazed, unhindered and maybe even unaware of what was going on.
The fact that He did not choose that route, but went out of his way to listen, to engage, to speak and to act, and even to act in such a way that resulted in the chief priests and teachers of the law planning on how to destroy Him is significant.
One of Jesus's most famous teachings is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In our sermon series on that teaching, I pointed out that Jesus is the True and Better Good Samaritan and this is demonstrated here.
This is good news for all of us, because we see that we do not have a God who is distant or unaware of injustice in our world, but a God who sees, who cares and who moves to action. Is this not what Jesus did by the Incarnation? And throughout the Gospels whether it was healing the sick, cleansing the leper, multiplying food, Jesus is demonstrating again and again these truths.
Second, Jesus declares an Old Testament prophecy about God's temple: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ We see that God's redemption is for all peoples- that Jesus's life and miracles and teaching and death and resurrection is for all nations (Matthew 28.18-20).
That means that Jesus is for Afghanis. Jesus is for Latinos. Jesus is for Caucasians. Jesus is for African Americans. Jesus is for Police Officers. Jesus is for Asians. Jesus is for Arabs. All nations. Jesus is not about a nation, a flag or a political party, He is about a King and a Kingdom.
In John 2, we see that the Jews asked Jesus by what authority did he commit these actions.
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
By these comments we begin to see that the house that God is referring to, was not going to be a physical building in a certain city or nation, but that it was going to be the resurrected body of Jesus- that is you and me, followers of Jesus, were going to be this new temple- this new house for all nations.
The apostle Paul speaks to a church of diverse backgrounds (Jews and Gentiles alike) in Ephesians 2:
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
We see him build on these same things, showing that Jesus came to bring peace to diverse people, not just teaching his followers to live together, but building them together into a "new humanity" and that new humanity would grow to become a holy temple in the Lord, where God would dwell by His Spirit.
Revelation 7 gives us a glimpse of what this will look like:
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Here we see the fulfillment of God's desire: A house of prayer for all nations.
This is what Jesus is building. This is where God is at work.
This means that as disciples of Jesus we are to enter into His work.
For Jesus is still taking notice, He is still going out of his way, He is still fighting injustice and cleansing the temple and building a house of prayer for all nations, by His Spirit, through His people. Through you and me- His body.
So the next question that we must ask as disciples of Jesus do we follow Him in this work?
Here are a four key Scriptures to guide us in this: (obviously we could list hundreds of Scriptures, but here are four to start with)
James 1.19 tells us 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
In the events of this week and the complex issues surrounding them, we represent Jesus and lead well by:
Being quick to listen:
As people talk about these topics and how it effects their own lives, let us be quick to listen. This is moving in the opposite spirit of much of our nation right now.
Here are some practical steps to do that:
- This talk given by Mika Edmondson to the Gospel Coalition that is a good place for us to start listening.
- This talk by Tom Skinner called Racism and World Evangelization, originally given in 1970 is another helpful place to listen.
- Build a relationship with someone who is not like you- different skin color, different political views, different country of origin, different economic status and learn to listen to their experience. Not everyone from every background is the same, but listening to diverse voices for the point of gaining understanding is good for us.
Being slow to speak:
This verse does not counsel us not to speak, but when and how to speak. As followers of Jesus and ministers of the Gospel, racial injustice is not a secondary issue that we can stand passively by, (nor do we affirm lawlessness) but it is a primary issue that we must speak about and provide leadership for- but let us speak with wisdom and unflinching courage, but do so in the right places and contexts.
Being slow to become angry:
I do not believe this is criticizing anger, as we know that Jesus himself became angry in John 2, but pointing out the need to use self control, for our anger does not produce God's righteousness. We will not lead well or represent Jesus well if we lash out in anger.
At the same time, this does not mean being passive or apathetic, for the focus of the verse is on how we bring about God's righteousness.
1 Timothy 2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
We are called to pray for our leadership whether we agree with them or not, whether we think them worthy of leadership or not, we are to pray for them that through their leadership peace, godliness and dignity would come.
I do not believe this means we are to stop with prayer, or limit our prayers to a social media post or graphic and then move on with life, but we are also not to leave this out.
As we pray, I believe that there will be some who are called by God to step into the public policy sphere, to address systemic issues and to help shape and direct reform like modern day William Wilberforces.
If that is you, please let me know. I want to help you step into that.
Let us also be those who support that calling.
Galatians 2.11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
When Cephas (Peter) was reverting to old racist tendencies (of which Paul's whole life up until his conversion would have been steeped in) when the circumcision party came around, Paul said "Their conduct was not in step with the truth of the Gospel" Thus we see that with our people, this is a discipleship issue that our attitude and our conduct would be in step with the Gospel, not out of step with it. So let us disciple well and lead people to repentance and renewal. If you read Peter's story you will see that this is a journey for him, and will be a journey for us too.
If you need good discipleship material regarding this, let me recommend
Luke 6.10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
The church is to be a picture on earth of what heaven is like. We know heaven is made up of people from every nation, tribe and tongue.
Therefore let us intentionally cultivate a community made up of relationships in the body of Christ with people from every nation, tribe and tongue. Let's intentionally pursue our dinner tables, and our lifegroups and our corporate gatherings reflecting the diversity and unity of heaven.