Resistance: Jesus’ Call to the Church

Worship Jesus as Resistance

September 16

Last week we began our series concerning the calling of Christians/the church, to be a form of resistance in their world. We began the series by sharing that “Jesus is Lord…” was comparable to stating “Jesus is Caesar.” The terms used of Caesar (Savior, Lord, Ruler of All, Prince of Peace, Son of God, Savior, Redeemer) were terms also used of Jesus, by the early Christians. These terms were highly political and communicated that “Jesus is Caesar…” which was similar to “treason” by our standards. Jesus even told Pilate (while standing in a Roman court of law), “You are right in saying I am a king.” (John 18:37). Even Paul and his mission team were accused of this treason while at the city of Thessalonica, “They are defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus,” (Acts 17:7).

The early Christian movement was one of resistance. It was one that resisted the Empire/kingdom of Rome while challenging its culture to fall under the rule or reign of God. One way they did this was through worship. Rome had communicated an “ideology” of power, empire, religion, peace, and justice. Those loyal to Rome and socially and economically advantaged—were protected. Those who were not were squashed by this empire. Yet the Spirit of God moved among the “little ones” and found a way to inspire and arouse them to become a movement that swept the world, causing the Thessalonians to proclaim, “these men [Christians] have turned the world upside down with their teaching…” (Acts 17:6).

Before we begin discussing this, I want to share an important way to interpret the Biblical text that we have read for so many years. A valuable way to learn to read and interpret this book is to view its “worlds.”

First, there is the world of the text. The world of the text includes the time when it was written, circulated, and received. We understand this world by studying the history of the times, the socio-political climate, and the economic environment of this world. The books we call “The New Testament” were written in ancient Palestine that was occupied by Roman culture and raised in a first century-Jewish environment. Occupied Palestine held to its traditional beliefs but was highly influenced and submissive to Roman politics, religion, and economics.

Second, there is the world behind the text. This is the world of the author. The authors were mostly Jewish (with the possible exception of Luke) and were familiar with the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, Jewish History, and the world of the text. The authors were Christian and wrote in defense of a movement, which they embraced, to mostly Christian readers in differing congregations. They also wrote concerning questions from their audience or to address certain issues in the congregations. The authors were skilled writers and sometimes used editors to write, edit, and finalize their works.

Finally, there is the world in front of the text. This is the world of the reader. The readers were Christians who were seeking answers to questions from the writer, or wanted guidance from the author. Most had a relationship with the writer and understood the times and issues they were facing.

What is important to understand is that the 3rd world, is the only world that changes. The worlds of the text and behind the text do not change. They are consistent and it is important for us to realize this. We do the difficult work of studying history, texts, and other writers to stabilize these two worlds. However the world in front of the text does change, but it is important to understand that the ancient readers tell us how to interpret the text. The modern readers help us apply the text.

Too often people read the text as if it was written to 20th Century Americans, but this is not good. First, what do people in other countries do with the text? Second, what will people in other decades do with the text? Application must be done after interpretation.

My point is that we as Americans who live in a world that claims to be just, or that provides comfort to us will struggle to understand “worship as resistance.” Those of us who have never lived under a king or a tyrant will not understand “Jesus as Lord,” or “Jesus as King” and its call to submission, faithfulness, and obedience. Those of us who feel secure in America will never understand the threat that others might feel in a country without a just government (which may include America). For us worship is an option, something we enjoy, something we do or an experience that makes us feel better. Worship may be less about what we proclaim and more about how we feel, or what makes us feel better.

Yet, in the ancient world, worship was a proclamation—a statement—a political endorsement. While we may use the phrase “politics and religion don’t mix,” this was foreign to how ancient people saw religion. Caesar was god/Jupiter, and your faith, worship, and expression of belief had to include your place in the Roman world. There was no, I believe in the politics of Rome and follow Jesus. Christians were persecuted because Rome believed that they could not be good citizens without claiming allegiance to Caesar.

Even Paul wrote that no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit, and they cannot curse Jesus if they have the Spirit of God (1 Cor 12:3).

Where did this proclamation take place? We may believe that it was limited to the street or in a Roman court, but Christians expressed this in many other ways. One way was worship. What better place than to create an alternate reality each Sunday. People would enter a home or meeting hall and see that this world was unique. The meals were different than what they were accustomed to, the discussions were different than what they normally heard, the relationships were unique, and the way women, slaves, and children were treated was also special. In their day to day world wealthy males ruled others and displayed their masculinity through power, oppression, and making sure others lived within their assigned roles in society. Those with honor were respected, those without, were mistreated.

Yet when someone would enter a Christian worship they would see something different. Women were allowed to “prophesy” or “speak out,” children would have been held (like Jesus held them), slaves would no longer serve but the owner of the home where they met, would serve—just like Jesus. People from other ethnicities would worship with Jews, Romans, Greeks, and other nations. Imagine the crowd when Paul’s statement was read, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ,” (Galatians 3:24). Imagine what it would have been like to visit that church.

That was proclamation—that was resistance. The church had and has the opportunity to proclaim a new world, a resistance to the current Empire, and a message that is unique. Jesus is Lord was more than a “slogan,” it was a proclamation. Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord. God’s Empire, not Rome’s, is all powerful. This proclamation led to a change of mind, heart, soul, and body.

  • Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
  • Así que, hermanos, os ruego por las misericordias de Dios, que presentéis vuestros cuerpos en sacrificio vivo, santo, agradable a Dios, que es vuestro culto racional. No os conforméis a este siglo, sino transformaos por medio de la renovación de vuestro entendimiento, para que comprobéis cuál sea la buena voluntad de Dios, agradable y perfecta. (Romans 12:1-2)

*Note = for a more in depth discussion of this text click here.

Worship is an act of resistance because we proclaim who is really in charge. Those who come to our assembly must view who we worship, follow, and proclaim. In this “world” we show each other and our visitors that we are sold out disciples of Jesus.

  • Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. 18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Cor 10:14-22)
  • or tanto, amados míos, huid de la idolatría. 15 Como a sensatos os hablo; juzgad vosotros lo que digo. 16 La copa de bendición que bendecimos, ¿no es la comunión de la sangre de Cristo? El pan que partimos, ¿no es la comunión del cuerpo de Cristo? 17 Siendo uno solo el pan, nosotros, con ser muchos, somos un cuerpo; pues todos participamos de aquel mismo pan. 18 Mirad a Israel según la carne; los que comen de los sacrificios, ¿no son partícipes del altar? 19 ¿Qué digo, pues? ¿Que el ídolo es algo, o que sea algo lo que se sacrifica a los ídolos? 20 Antes digo que lo que los gentiles sacrifican, a los demonios lo sacrifican, y no a Dios; y no quiero que vosotros os hagáis partícipes con los demonios. 21 No podéis beber la copa del Señor, y la copa de los demonios; no podéis participar de la mesa del Señor, y de la mesa de los demonios. 22 ¿O provocaremos a celos al Señor? ¿Somos más fuertes que él? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)

Jesus’ disciples show that in worship, and life, we are not divided in our faith. We are loyal to Jesus, not things, not objects, and not concepts. Christianity is not a “good philosophy,” it is our way of life. When we were baptized we began this journey of continual confession, proclamation, and discipleship.

Second, worship is an act of resistance because we reject the values of consumerism and other social ills so prevalent in our society. Consumerism creates “takers,” it creates “indecisiveness,” and it breeds an “addiction for constant change.” Stability, sharing, giving, having the best interest of others, and commitment all are foreign to consumerism—however they are qualities of Jesus’ Empire. Much like the Led Zeppelin song (under the Ronnie James Dio era) “the devil is never a maker, the less that you give you’re a taker…” Jesus’ Empire promotes giving and unconditional love, which are qualities unique in our world.

The Hebrew writer told the early Christians that worship was a time to care for each other, rather than themselves.

  • Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:19-25)
  • Así que, hermanos, teniendo libertad para entrar en el Lugar Santísimo por la sangre de Jesucristo, 20 por el camino nuevo y vivo que él nos abrió a través del velo, esto es, de su carne, 21 y teniendo un gran sacerdote sobre la casa de Dios, 22 acerquémonos con corazón sincero, en plena certidumbre de fe, purificados los corazones de mala conciencia, y lavados los cuerpos con agua pura. 23 Mantengamos firme, sin fluctuar, la profesión de nuestra esperanza, porque fiel es el que prometió. 24 Y considerémonos unos a otros para estimularnos al amor y a las buenas obras; 25 no dejando de congregarnos, como algunos tienen por costumbre, sino exhortándonos; y tanto más, cuanto veis que aquel día se acerca. (Hebrews 10:19-25)

We live in a time when people seek out churches based on what they offer, rather than who is leading and what transformation is happening. Churches and Christian leaders are faced with the task of “appealing” to people, or “attracting” crowds, rather than mission and faith in a God who will financially provide for any group trusting and proclaiming the Lord Jesus. Worship is a time to teach each other and our guests that in this world we care about others.

Third, worship as resistance offers stability in a world of increasing change, chaos, and instability. Since Jesus is the same forever, and God’s promises continue—we have confidence that Jesus will continue to rule the world, manage the cosmos, and bring life to those who love and follow him. In a world with changing leaders, competing egos, and power-hungry tyrants, Jesus loves as he has always loved. Our worship, our songs, our communion, and our message will show our people and our guests that Jesus provides salvation and hope in a world of chaos.

  • Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. 18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Cor 10:14-22)
  • or tanto, amados míos, huid de la idolatría. 15 Como a sensatos os hablo; juzgad vosotros lo que digo. 16 La copa de bendición que bendecimos, ¿no es la comunión de la sangre de Cristo? El pan que partimos, ¿no es la comunión del cuerpo de Cristo? 17 Siendo uno solo el pan, nosotros, con ser muchos, somos un cuerpo; pues todos participamos de aquel mismo pan. 18 Mirad a Israel según la carne; los que comen de los sacrificios, ¿no son partícipes del altar? 19 ¿Qué digo, pues? ¿Que el ídolo es algo, o que sea algo lo que se sacrifica a los ídolos? 20 Antes digo que lo que los gentiles sacrifican, a los demonios lo sacrifican, y no a Dios; y no quiero que vosotros os hagáis partícipes con los demonios. 21 No podéis beber la copa del Señor, y la copa de los demonios; no podéis participar de la mesa del Señor, y de la mesa de los demonios. 22 ¿O provocaremos a celos al Señor? ¿Somos más fuertes que él? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)

As Paul mentioned—idols are empty, demons destroy, but only Jesus saves us from sin, guilt, shame, and regret. Researchers have indicated that worship, ritual, or the practice of traditions actually have a powerful impact on those who participate. As John D. Witvliet wrote “Habits, like ritual, pushes against a tide of resistance. Indeed, in many contexts the only worship habit that seems desirable is that of endless innovation. In much of North American culture, we are habitually wired to resist habits.” (51). To enter a world where communion happens regularly, songs are sung to Jesus as Lord, and reading from 2000-5000 year old texts inspire hope suggests that there is consistency.

Finally, we worship as resistance because we claim that an “executed criminal” is not only our king, but saw that death is not the end. We proclaim that sacrifice for love, for vision, and with hope is the key to living a full life. There is something greater than death—and beyond the grave.

  • For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor 11:23-26)
  • Porque yo recibí del Señor lo que también os he enseñado: Que el Señor Jesús, la noche que fue entregado, tomó pan; 24 y habiendo dado gracias, lo partió, y dijo: Tomad, comed; esto es mi cuerpo que por vosotros es partido; haced esto en memoria de mí.25 Asimismo tomó también la copa, después de haber cenado, diciendo: Esta copa es el nuevo pacto en mi sangre; haced esto todas las veces que la bebiereis, en memoria de mí. 26 Así, pues, todas las veces que comiereis este pan, y bebiereis esta copa, la muerte del Señor anunciáis hasta que él venga. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

This is not the message in our world today. Today life must be experienced in order to make it worthwhile. We want to leave this earth having done all there is to do, visited all there is to visit, and see all that there is to see. While I don’t believe this is bad, I know that many, many people leave this earth never having left their country. Many people have only lived in their community and touched the lives of those closest to them. They leave this earth with memories and hearts that are blessed. Many of the people in the Bible never ventured out of their geographical region (Jesus being one of them) yet their stores, teachings, and messages are retold or reread every day, week, and at community gatherings.

We tell the story, each week, of the Man from Nazareth who died so that others can live, and lives so that others can die. This message is our resistance. We show our world, our guests, and each other that the Empire of Jesus is unique—because we worship a unique Savior, Lord, and King!