“You know what, politics is like sex. You always knew that didn’t you?”— Tim Keller, “With a Politician” (28:52)
The contents of this article are entirely from Tim Keller’s sermon, “With a Politician.” Link to the listen to the sermon at the end of this article.
Tim Keller, With a Politician
You know what, politics is like sex. You always knew that didn’t you?
Think about this. Back in Luke Chapter 7, do you remember a woman? The woman who was a prostitute? And she gave Jesus the perfume, alabaster, flask around her neck. Remember that?
Because what she was saying is, “I thought spirituality was really all about sexuality. I thought basically sex was what moved the world. But I realize now that sexuality is about spirituality. Actually, I realize now that through my sexual activity, I was trying to get something done that only Jesus can give me. I was trying to get closure. I was trying to get a sense of security and acceptance. In all of my sexuality I thought I was really achieving something that only Jesus can achieve for me.” And therefore, she laid her sexuality down before Jesus’ feet. That didn’t mean now she could never have sex. But she’s never going to make it into that idol. And it’s never going to be the thing that drives her, and it’s never going to be her identity, and she’s never going to be in a sense, a slave to it. Never again.
Now politics is like that.
In what way?
There are an awful lot of people who ask me questions. They say, “come on now, what is your church really about politically.” In other words, the idea is, that really here’s religion but underneath everything is really politics.
Here’s politics and underneath everything is really religion. In politics, if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re going to try to get things done in politics that only God can do. You’re going to want to have a sense of impact. You’re going to want to have a sense of significance. You want to have a sense of mission. You want to say, “I can change the world. I can really change the world.”
Politics can only change so much.
And if you turn politics into an idol, you’ll turn to something. If you’re a conservative, you’ll make a god out of the market. If you’re a liberal, you’ll make a god out of the state. And what you’ll do is, you’ll say that is the answer to all the problems. And you will, just like, in a sense, the woman used sex to do something that only God can give her, closure, so you can use politics to get something only God can give you: which is mission, impact, change the world!
You can only do that through God.
Get involved in politics. But first, like the woman laid down her alabaster perfume, Pilate should have laid down his scepter. Think about it, Jesus could have given it back! Jesus wouldn’t have said, “well, you’re a Christian now, you can’t be involved in politics.” Oh no. Finally, finally, finally.
Pilate would have finally not been such the screw-up that he was in politics, frankly.
Now in what way then though is Jesus political? You see, on the one hand, Jesus didn’t say, “yes, I’m political.” Because he had to show that he’s not, and that he doesn’t bring you a political program, and that to become a Christian you do not first decide where are the politics going. You must not do that! Otherwise he’s not the king, you see!
But on the other hand. Ahh, on the other hand, the reason he didn’t say, “no, I’m not political.” He didn’t yes, but he didn’t say no. Why? Because in the end, what Jesus Christ does to you, changes every part of your life. Absolutely. You see?
If you want to know how that works, in a very sly way, Luke is not only showing us that he’s not political because Herod and Pilate say he’s not. And that’s Luke’s way of saying Jesus is not, basically, a political person at all. He didn’t come like that. He didn’t come to do that. So don’t think that basically Christianity is all about politics.
But on the other hand, there’s a third politician. Did you know there’s a third political operative in this story? There’s a third one. You say well ok, there’s Pilate, Herod…where’s the third political operative?
Oh yea. There was a real revolutionary, and he was in prison. And it was the custom at the Passover, you know, to free a prisoner. And so even though Luke doesn’t tell us, the other three gospels tell us that it was Pilate’s idea. Pilate comes and says, “You know, I don’t really want to have to kill this man, so I’ll tell you what: I’ll give you a choice. You want me to convict him, but let’s free a prisoner. What shall it be? Jesus or Barabbas? Barabbas was a real revolutionary. In other words, Barabbas was in jail for really doing the things that Jesus was about to be punished for. And of course, Pilate was a little upset and didn’t realize it backfired because….Pilate puts in front of them two Jesuses.
Did you know that Barabbas’s name was Jesus? Do you know the name Barabbas means “son of the father?” And so you have in front of us, two sons of the father, we have in front of us two Jesuses.
Pilate says which one do you want? And of course, the world says, give us Barabbas.
What Luke is trying to say is, Jesus, in one way, is a revolutionary. A very different kind of revolutionary. A very different kind.
You see on the one hand, the story of Barabbas and Jesus is brought out because Barabbas is you and me. When Jesus Christ is killed for the very sins that Barabbas is guilty of, and Barabbas is freed, what have you got a picture of?
Do you not see it?
Don’t you know an insult when you see it?
The Gospel writer Luke is trying to say we’re Barabbas. Can you imagine Barabbas? Barabbas is in prison and he’s getting ready to be crucified, and he’s thinking about the suffocation, and he’s thinking about the nails in the hands. And then he hears a crowd outside crying “crucify him, crucify him.” And he’s thinking, “oh my gosh, it’s going to be any minute.” And then he hears the soldiers come in, and open the day, and he says, “oh my gosh, here it’s going to be.”
And the soldiers say, you’re free.
And Barabbas would say, “how can I be free”?
And the soldiers, you know, being very gruff [and stupid] say “oh here, come on.” And he takes him out…and he shows him.
What’s Barabbas going to say? “Wait a minute, that’s my cross, he’s bearing. Those are my nails he’s receiving, in his hands. And that is my death he’s dying. He’s the only person in history that can actually literally say that. And I am breathing his fresh air. And I am released.”
You see that word in the end? He released. He released, Barabbas.
That is the Gospel.
God made him who knew no sin to be sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Do you know why Jesus was not saying anything? Do you know why Jesus was letting them beat him?
Because Jesus Christ was taking our punishment. He was acting the way a guilty person should act. He was being true to us. He was being faithful to us. And, if you take that in, if you take that all the way in. If you know, that you are now – don’t you see what’s so interesting, Jesus didn’t just die for you so your sins are forgiven in a general way – what you have is what the theologians here, in the picture of Jesus and Barabbas, call double imputation. Double imputation!
It’s not just that Jesus died so your sins go to him. But his freedom comes to you. His righteousness comes to you. You are now treated as if you never did these things. God now accepts you and loves you as you are.
That’s revolutionary. Absolutely revolutionary.
Because, do you know what it means now?
It means your identity…
Your real wealth isn’t….
Your real citizenship isn’t…
Your class status.
None of those things are as important now as what Jesus is to you. And that means your whole attitude toward your politics, toward your culture, toward your class, has all been changed. And you’re free to go, wherever you can do the most good.
You don’t have to fight. You’re not bitter all the time. Because your identity isn’t your race, it’s not your class, it’s Jesus. It’s not your wealth, it’s not your career, it’s Jesus.
You suddenly are radically changed, radically freed in every way. Your attitude toward everything. He is incredibly political.
And let me close with this. Tom Skinner, African American pastor who lived in New York and died not too long ago. He preached a sermon at Urbana Missionary Conference, in Urbana, Illinois in 1970. I didn’t make it, but I got the tape, and a number of my friends went. I was a brand new Christian. And I could not listen to this sermon enough.
You know, we’re about to take missions offering at the end of this sermon, at the end of this service.
Because we believe that the best way to change the world is to fill it with the Gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ. And there is nothing more revolutionary, and politically revolutionary in the end than that.