I’m excited to announce the first ever guest blog post and guest author on the Missional Man Podcast. I’d like to introduce one of my best friends in life and fellow wayfarers Rob Wilkerson: Christ-follower, husband of over 20 years, dad of 4 kids (3 boys, 1 girl), entrepreneur, business strategist and lover of awesome movies and documentaries!
Syrian Refugees and Jesus’ Kingdom
What to do with Syrian refugees. Hmmm. We can fight and argue about it, of course. We can look at things in a binary, either-or framework of life, debating whether to accept or reject them. We can criticize the pros and cons of France’s decision to embrace the refugees as compared to the United State’s decision to help resettle 10,000 of them here in our country.
Or there’s another way. One that demystifies politics and settles the dust of anger and rhetoric.
We can follow Jesus.
What exactly does that look like in a case like this? I think whatever it will end up looking like needs to flow from three foundational truths I’ve learned from Jesus.
1. Followers of Jesus are not even citizens of this world, or any nation or government for that matter.
Jesus made an world-view shifting statement one night: “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
Jesus’ words to Peter and the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane during His arrest sum it up for me when it comes to politics in general. That especially goes for all the e-hubbub on welcoming or rejecting Syrian refugees into our borders, on both a national and statewide level.
The night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, Peter became a disciple-turned-ninja. We’re not really sure why Peter targeted the slave of the High Priest (a guy named Malchus) for his first feat of the sword. My guess is he sized up his own swordsmanship as a fisherman against that of 600 Roman soldiers standing in front of him and picked the easy target.
The original Rock (the name Jesus gave Peter in Matthew 16) decided to go into action hero mode, grabbing his sword and attempting to behead the man. As I see it, Malchus must have had some “Spidey-sense”, ducking to the side and only losing his ear in the skirmish. Jesus has complete control of the situation though.
Strangely, we do not read of a group soldiers slamming Peter to the ground and hog-tying him. No doubt that’s because those 600 Roman soldiers were still shaking in their sandals from being knocked flat on their derrieres just a few moments earlier after Jesus answered to their call with “I AM” (see John 18:6). If we assume that’s what was probably going on, it’s easy to see their deep respect for this man they’ve been asked to arrest for no reason (and for no pay either, since I doubt that the 30 pieces of silver Judas paid to the religious leaders was split evenly among the cohort of soldiers that night).
They did not rush Peter, Jesus, or any of the other disciples after Peter’s foolishness. That’s definitely something you wouldn’t see in an amateur live-action phone video on YouTube these days! Instead, Jesus calms the situation by healing Malchus’ ear, putting back on his head (hello! freakin’ amazing, right?!) and ensuring that the other disciples were safe (John 18:8, 9).
Why did I tell that little story just then? Mainly because I happen to think it’s one of the coolest scenes in the New Testament. But also because it was the context for a very, crucial, fundamental, critical, foundational, primo (and whatever other synonyms you can throw in with that mix) truth that shapes the worldview of a follower of Jesus. “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). And in my experience, this statement along with some other important stuff Jesus said there, usually get me in more trouble with other Christians than probably anything else I’ve ever discussed before.
From this story we learn several important reflections of those who follow Jesus. We hate violence. We refuse to take up weapons against our enemies. We trust in Jesus to handle situations the way He deems best. And while we are certainly not doormats (per the strawman I’m often accused of embracing), I do believe we are welcome mats…for enemies of God to wipe their feet on as they cross the threshold into the kingdom.
Peter changed his tune after he and Jesus reconciled, after Jesus rose from the dead. By the time Peter is writing to hundreds, if not thousands of Christians scattered across Asia Minor because of persecution, he reminds everyone that they were “temporary residents and foreigners” in this world (1 Peter 2:11). Followers of Jesus are not citizens of this world. Or this nation, as awesome as its benefits are. Or this government. Or any nation or government of any kind.
I just so happen to be an American because I was born here. I enjoy living in America. I like the benefits of capitalism and freedom and democracy and all that. However, Jesus clearly and undeniably teaches that my citizenship lies with Him in heaven and not here on this planet. Well, to be totally accurate that truth actually came from Paul (Philippians 3:20), but I’m pretty sure Jesus taught it to him (Galatians 1:17).
This kind of teaching really ticks off a lot of Republican, Fox-news-watching, die-hard, patriotic, gun-toting, Muslim-hating, church-going Americans, many of whom believe they are followers of Jesus. And my usage of those hyphenated adjectives will probably tick them off even more. But the facts seem pretty straightforward. Kind of black and white, actually. I’m just gonna put this out there and hold on tight for the verbal flogging: patriotism turns from appreciation to idolatry when your loyalty to and love for an earthy planet overrides your loyalty to and love for the kingdom of God.
Those who really are followers of Jesus must renew their minds (Romans 12:1-2) according to the truth that we are not citizens of this planet. We are not citizens of this government or that kingdom. Rather, we are citizens of heaven. And while we submit to the government of our nation, ordained by God Himself (Romans 13:1 ff.), we are accountable to a higher government, namely that of King Jesus Himself. And where the laws of this land contravene or contradict the law of love from King Jesus (John 13:34), we obey God rather than man.
2. Followers of Jesus have embraced their own death in the process of bringing life to others.
Jesus made another worldview-shifting statement. It is repeated in Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23. It went something like this: “If you want to be one of my followers you have to do three important things: deny yourself, accept your death, and then follow me. Many Christians these days aren’t fond of referencing the fact that there are requirements if you want be a Jesus-follower. They come from His own mouth. There they are. And they are horrifying.
But followers of Jesus face that horror with truth. God raised Jesus from the dead, and we’ll be raised, too. God raised Jesus to heaven, and we will go there too with Him. God empowered Jesus in the midst of suffering to forgive those who hurt Him, and He will empower us, too. Yet in this paradigm-changing statement there’s one important element that is missing: self-preservation. The call to follow Jesus is about serving others at your own expense…even at your own death.
It’s mind-bending, as most hard sayings of Jesus usually are. And this is the single most significant issue that seems to trip up more “Christians” than anything else, in my experience: the felt-need to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Jesus did not seek to protect Himself, but He entrusted Himself to the Father (1 Peter 2:23). And He entrusted His loved ones to the Father (John 17:6-15; John 18:8, 9). Following Jesus means following the same path. The Father is big enough to protect us…or deliver us to the hands of our own killers. Following Jesus means praying, “Please don’t let the cup of suffering be poured out on me and my family. But ultimately, it’s about your will being done and not mine.”
This mission we are on is about bringing life to others. It’s about bringing compassion, mercy, benevolence, help, and doing it all in the name of Jesus so that the world will see the heart of Jesus and choose to follow Him with us, instead of following a world that offers only continuous pain and suffering and violence. As I said earlier, I reject “door mat” accusations and embrace a “welcome mat” mindset. It means believing in our hearts and saying with our mouths, if necessary…
“Go ahead and wipe your feet of violence on my life if it means you can eventually enter the kingdom of God. I’m going to heaven no matter what, and I desperately want you to come with me. In fact, I want that more than I want to live. And by the way, I’m training all my kids to think the same way, so you really can’t hurt us ultimately. All you can do is kill us.”
3. Followers of Jesus live by the “Golden Rule”, offering help to refugees because that’s what they would want if they themselves were refugees.
Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount that His followers were to treat other people as they themselves want to be treated (Matthew7:12). I look at videos and images of tens of thousands of people fleeing their neighborhoods…on foot. Homes destroyed, family killed, cars stolen, no transportation except that which they can bribe their way onto. Hungry. Only the clothes on their back. Thirsty. No earthly security or assurance of what’s going to happen tomorrow. That’s what life is like for them. Imagine what it would be like for you if that were your family.
“But they might be terrorists! If I were to let them into my country or my home, they might kill me and my family!” That’s exactly right. So minister to them anyway. And if you suspect at all that they may be up to terroristic activities, turn ’em in! And do it fast. No one is saying Jesus wants you to take terrorists into your home whom you know full well want to kill your family. Jesus is saying, however, that if you see people in need of earthly sustenance, provision, and need, then reach out to them and help them, because it’s what you yourself would want (Matthew 25:31-46; James 2:14-16; 1 John 3:17)
Here’s the bottom line question that changes everything: if you were in their shoes, would you want you and your friends to help them? And this leads to the next question: would you and your friends and family actually help them now?
Conclusion: Following Jesus really can bring simplicity to a world of complex governmental policy and world violence.
Plug the Syrian refugee hubbub into the framework of these truths. Then see what happens. Minds and hearts transform. There is pain in the process. And man, does it hurt sometimes. We are more controlled and informed by our culture than we like to think. So the truth of Jesus intersecting with those parts of us that are culture-controlled can cause some mental and psychological whiplash. For some it can be an “oh wow…oh yeah!” experience. For others it’s an experience of inner chaos resulting in external vitriol and vehemence. I’ve had both experiences before. Many times, actually.
What I’ve found, more often than not, is that the level of angst and anger I feel toward something Jesus says is more indicative of where I am at in my current maturity level than it is of the person who I want to believe is spouting stupidity. When we talk about Syrian refugees as “those people” and speak with vehemence about the necessity of closed borders, I can’t help but wonder if it more reflects closed hearts. Jesus loved everyone, and He never, ever, ever turned anyone away. Never. Well, there were those Pharisee fellas from time to time. But that’s another issue altogether.
Or is it?
Perhaps we’re behaving more like Pharisees when we show more concern for our national rules and regulations than the well-being of people in suffering. That’s not a far stretch at all, really. They were the sort to tie up burdens of rules and regulations on people’s backs, in the name of religious safety, while not lifting a finger to truly love somebody else. They said they were all about loving God. But they never loved anybody else. They only loved themselves.
If we are followers of Jesus, our entire lives are aimed at one bullseye: loving one another. That’s it, plain and simple. However we can do it…by whatever means…whenever possible…however much we can…wherever there’s an opportunity, followers of Jesus love one another. How do we do that? Romans 12 is a great place to start. It’s one of my favorite chapters, if for no other reason than that love is so plainly spelled out there. I especially like verses 9-18.
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them . Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
It’s really hard to read a passage like that and still feel just as closed-hearted toward Syrian refugees…or really any person who’s in need. I don’t want to argue about facts, to be honest. How many terrorists pose as refugees isn’t an arguing point for me when Jesus wants us to practice hospitality, bless them, and pray that God would bless them. IF such a day ever came (and most of us will probably never see the day when we have to actually be concerned about Syrian refugees intersecting with our homes), love equips and outfits us to actually turn the tables on evil. This is the very truth with which Paul concludes chapter 12.
” ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.’ Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”
As followers of Jesus we are not of this world. Our bodies and belongings are stationed here. But our souls are seated with Christ in heaven (Colossians 3:1-3). We are actual citizens of another realm, a different reality, an alternate universe. And Jesus’ intention is for that universe to intersect with this one and actually transform it. That’s why He taught us to pray the way He did in what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.”
“May your kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Will we humbly bow to the sovereignty of King Jesus and His will? Will we recognize culture for what it is – a worldly philosophy that seeks to brainwash citizens of heaven – and strip and peel and tear it off so that we can experience the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus inside of us? Or will we continue to blindly parrot the views of our generational assumptions, favorite news channel puppets, and internet gossip and plant our emotional flags in the wrong world?
This is a serious call to those who claim to followers of Jesus. His truth is sobering. Find a quiet place, let it soak in, and talk to God about it. Let the Spirit of truth tunnel through the mountain of culture and speak in a way only He can with thoughts that can only come from Jesus.
He loves those Syrian refugees. He loves refugees in general. And as His followers we should, too. He welcomes them to Himself. And so should we. No matter what the cost. Love has no price tag. We are just as expendable as Jesus when it comes to the Kingdom of God. The servant is not greater than the master. And love has zero boundaries around its power. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is working in those who follow Jesus. Give way to that love, and sacrifice and power.