At Gateway Church in South Austin, we began a new series called Hope for the Nations.
The holiday season often includes us celebrating the birth of Jesus. But when we celebrate Jesus, we don’t just celebrate a great teacher or a person who did good deeds—we celebrate the One who rescued humanity and brought hope to all the nations. And because of who Jesus was, our world has seen great leaders who were influenced by His story, like Gandhi. How can we see Jesus’ influence through Gandhi’s legacy, and how can we make sure that others see Jesus’ influence through our lives, too?
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Notes from the Teaching Team:
When asked about the most influential people of the last century, most often Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Theresa top the list. But did you know that so much of the influence of Gandhi, Dr. King, and Mother Theresa can all be traced back to the words and influence of Jesus?
As we move closer to Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we wanted to look at the way Jesus’ life and teaching have impacted our world through three of the most well-known and revered leaders in the last century.
You see, for us, Christmas is not the celebration of the birth of a great teacher, the founder of a worldwide religion, a great prophet or even the most influential person to ever live, Christmas is when God came to walk among us. More than any other person who walked among us, Jesus was unique. He claimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah, the One promised to rescue all humanity and by living a sinless life, miraculously healing the sick, teaching with authority, willingly dying on the cross, and by overcoming death, He brought salvation to all who turn to Him. He brought hope to all the nations on earth.
Remarkably, the life and teachings of Jesus continue to bring heaven to earth and make a difference through the lives of those who follow His example and live out what He taught.
Today we are going to look at Gandhi and how he was influenced by the life and teaching of Jesus. And how he lived so much of what Jesus taught in a way that should inspire us to do the same. In fact, if we lived what Jesus taught about the power of love to conquer all evil, we would change the world around us.
Gandhi’s Thoughts on Jesus
Gandhi’s great respect for Christ and the extent to which he drew inspiration from him are revealed in his statements:
“What does Jesus mean to me? To me, he was one of the greatest teachers humanity has ever
“Jesus lived and died in vain if He did not teach us to regulate the whole of life by the eternal law of love.”
“Jesus, a man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.”
“Jesus expressed as no other could the spirit and will of God. It is in this sense that I see him and recognize as the Son of God. And because the life of Jesus has the significance and the transcendence to which I have alluded, I believe that he belongs not solely to Christianity but to the entire world, to all races and people. It matters little under what flag, name or doctrine they may work, profess a faith or worship a God inherited from their ancestors.”
Gandhi’s Impact on India and Early Years
Today Mahatma Gandhi (Mahatma means “Great Soul”) is considered the father of modern India – his face is on every piece of currency, his birthday is a national holiday. He championed non-violent protest against injustice, yet was murdered by an assassin. He freed India from oppressive British Rule, yet at a time in History where the world was at war.
Gandhi was born and raised in a poor Hindu family on the coast of western India. Married in an arranged marriage at 13, he left his teen bride and child at 18 for London. In 1891, He went to law school in London. His Hindu caste excommunicated him for going to London, but he went anyway. Gandhi was Hindu, and yet while in London, his Christian friend challenged him to read the New Testament and learn about Jesus, what he claimed and taught. Gandhi did just that.
Gandhi believed and followed Jesus teachings in the Sermon on the Mount like few have been willing to do—that’s what I want to explore today.
Gandhi and The Sermon on the Mount
Gandhi said, “I could not…take much interest in the Old Testament, which I had certainly read, if only to fulfill a promise…But the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart.”
His prayerful study of the New Testament, which he started in London, went on throughout his life. He acquired a good knowledge of the New Testament. Often he read passages from the Gospels. Mathew’s Gospel had a particular appeal to him, as it contained the Sermon on the Mount, which Gandhi read and meditated on, along with the Bhagavad Gita, every day for the rest of his life. Let me ask those who follow Christ (do you read and meditate on Jesus words and teachings every day like he did? Kind of convicting, huh!?)
But Gandhi’s experience with Christians complicated his love for Jesus and his teachings. India was under British rule, a “Christian nation” which was also harshly oppressing poor Indians for cheap labor. By the way, “Christian nation”, just like “Christian school” is a misnomer—there are no Christian schools or nations, only Christian people who Jesus said you will know them by their fruits. That’s in the Sermon on the Mount).
So let’s read the first part of Jesus Sermon that Gandhi meditated on and lived by every day: “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. 6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. 7 God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. 9 God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. 10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way…You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:4-16
Gandhi and Injustice
As a Lawyer, Gandhi moved back to India, but after 2 years trying to start a law practice back in India, he moved to South Africa to represent an Indian merchant in a law suit. In South Africa, Gandhi faced discrimination because of his skin color and heritage. He was not allowed to sit with European passengers in the stagecoach and told to sit on the floor near the driver, then beaten when he refused; elsewhere he was kicked into a gutter for daring to walk near a house, in another instance thrown off a train after refusing to leave the first-class. He sat in the train station, shivering all night and pondering if he should return to India or protest what was happening. He stayed 21 years in South Africa, raised a family, and first employed non-violent resistance in a campaign for civil rights. Indians did not have the right to vote in South Africa (very much like Africans in America, Indians had been taken to South Africa as slaves in the 1700’s).
That evil treatment of fellow humans left its mark into Gandhi’s time. It was in South Africa that Gandhi developed the Satyagraha (non-violent protest). Which came largely from Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount.
38 “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. 43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Matthew 5:38-46.
From Jesus’ teachings, and the doctrine of ahimsa or non-violence, he developed Satyagraha (this idea of non-violent protest—working for justice for the poor or oppressed by loving your enemies). In many ways, Gandhi was more of a biblical fundamentalist than 90% of Christians—he took Jesus words and literally lived them, and it brought hope and justice to 2 nations.
In 1900, the South Africans were at war with the Boers. The stereotype of Indians was they weren’t manly enough for danger or combat, unlike Muslim “martial races” so Gandhi raised 1100 Indian volunteers to be stretcher bearers to rescue wounded soldiers in the Boers war—putting themselves in the greatest danger to serve and rescue even those who oppressed them (literally applying Jesus words). They got a medal of honor from the Queen. Through non-violent protest, Gandhi rallied Indians and stood against many discriminatory practices—including not being able to vote.
In 1915, at age 45, Gandhi returned to India. The British who ruled were forcing India laborers to grow Indigo and other cash crops that they could only sell at low fixed prices, highly taxed, and this kept them from growing food for their families. When a famine hit, laborers were starving to death, but no tax relief was given. Gandhi set about organizing peasants, farmers, and urban laborers to protest the excessive land-tax and discrimination. Eventually taxes were postponed until the famine ended and many lives saved.
In 1919 Gandhi, feeling double-crossed after he encouraged Indians to fight for Britian in WW1 in exchange for self-rule, which never came, encouraged civil disobedience until Self-Rule was established. The police open fired on unarmed people, peacefully protesting in Delhi. People rioted—Gandhi pleaded for non-violence, to boycott British goods and wear only Indian clothing in protest. He pleaded for people to live Jesus’ words and use Love to fight their enemies, not hatred. He fasted and declared he would not eat, even unto death, until the violence stopped. Gandhi was so respected and loved at that point, the Indians stopped the violence. At this point, Gandhi traded in his Lawyer’s suit and tie, choosing to identify with the poor by wearing only hand-spun Indian garments.
In many ways, Gandhi gave up the life he could have pursued as a wealthy lawyer, and instead lived out what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6.
When you give to someone in need…your Father, who sees everything, will reward you…Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal…No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money… but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6
Gandhi seemed to have a real tension between Jesus, whom he loved and admired, and Christians in India who ruled his country, but didn’t live by Jesus’ words.
Gandhi and Christianity
Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, but not your Christianity…I believe in the teachings of Christ, but you on the other side of the world do not, I read the Bible faithfully and see little in Christendom that those who profess faith pretend to see…The Christians above all others are seeking after wealth. Their aim is to be rich at the expense of their neighbors.”
Gandhi actually used his education and influence to serve the poor and oppressed and forgotten.
It’s worth asking: “Am I following Jesus as much as he did?” Am I seeking God’s Kingdom first, or building my kingdom first?
Gandhi’s struggle was not with Jesus or his teachings, but with those claiming his name who seemed to justify their injustices toward the poor and oppressed—placing their wealth-building above love for their Indian neighbors—and Gandhi knew Jesus 2 Greatest commandments: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Gandhi even once said, if Christians in India really followed Jesus, Hinduism would cease to exist in that country. He saw the power of the Love for your enemies that Jesus taught and lived out right until the end—as the nails that bought humanities forgiveness were pounded into his wrists and Jesus cried out “Father Forgive them, they know not what they do.”
But instead of a self-sacrificing love for all people and all nations, Gandhi saw a hypocrisy. When he went to visit a church in Calcutta, he was barred from entering and told “This church is only for high-caste Indians and whites,” and Gandhi was neither. But he also saw injustices in his own religious traditions that revealed the struggle of all humanity, that we all sin and fall short of God’s intentions.
A Concern for the Poor
In 1921 he led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women’s rights, building religious and ethnic amity, and he also fought against the Hindu caste system—championing the end of untouchability—the Dalit’s, who are the lowest Caste (whom Mother Teresa—who we will look at in 2 weeks—worked among), were outcasts. The result of hindu doctrine of Karma and Samasara—the cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation to pay for your sins or bad Karma. The thought was, the low caste Dalits (the poor and most oppressed) must have done something in their former life to deserve their poverty and struggle—so don’t help them, don’t touch them, or their bad Karma will rub off on you–they have to work off their bad Karma. Gandhi opposed this injustice as well—seeming instead to believe Jesus’ words, “blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn.”
In 1922, under a new law that made non-violent protest a crime, Gandhi was imprisoned for a 6-year term. He got out after 2 years only to return to lead the charge to self-rule of India. In 1930 the salt tax was reducing many Indians to serfdom, while the Indian Viceroy made 5000x the average Indian’s salary. Gandhi led a 250-mile march in protest against these injustices. A horrified American journalist, Webb Miller, described the response: “at a word of command, scores of native policemen rushed upon the advancing marchers and rained blows on their heads…Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off blows…I heard the sickening whack of the clubs on unprotected skulls… Those struck down fell sprawling, unconscious or writhing with fractured skulls or broken shoulders.” This went on for hours until some 300 or more protesters had been beaten…and two killed. At no time did they offer any resistance. This campaign was one of his most successful at upsetting British hold on India; Britain responded by imprisoning over 60,000 people, Gandhi was imprisoned many times.
Self-Rule for India
But by the 1940s Gandhi’s marches and fasts calling for the British to quit India—to return self-rule back to the people of India began to build a powerful force for change. This idea (straight from Jesus) about winning “hated with love” was triumphing. In 1942, Gandhi now nearing age 73, urged his people to completely stop cooperating with the imperial government. In this effort, he urged that they neither kill nor injure British people, but be willing to suffer and die if violence is initiated by the British officials. The success of Gandhi leading people to live out Jesus’ words so courageously, later inspired a Christian Pastor, Martin Luther King, Jr. who said:
“Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus
above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In August 1947 Britain granted independence to India, but this was at a time when a muslim nationalism
was demanding a separate Muslim homeland in India, so they partitioned India into the Muslim majority Pakistan, and the Hindu majority India. As this happened, religious violence broke out. Instead of celebrating Independence, Gandhi went to Bengal and Punjab where the religious fighting was the worst, and he underwent a fast unto death to stop the religious violence. He truly lived out Jesus’ words “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9. It was a bloody fight of Muslims versus Hindus. At that time a Hindu asked Gandhi, “What shall I do? My only son was killed by a Muslim.” Straight came the reply: “Forgive. Adopt a Muslim child as your own. His parents may have been killed by Hindus.”
He echoed Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount Prayer: “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” Matthew 5:12
Some Hindus thought Gandhi was too accommodating, and Jan 30, 1948, a Hindu Nationalist shot Gandhi 3 times in the chest for his complacency toward Muslims. Racism, hatred, evil are found everywhere, in every culture, every religious background.
But Jesus brought hope—for all the nations—a hope that comes from the God of Love, who demonstrated that love physically. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:9-11
So why are we looking at the life of Gandhi?
Because Gandhi lived by the teachings of Jesus in a way that puts a lot of Christ-followers to shame. If we were as intentional about loving people who hurt us, blessing those who curse us, if we spent ourselves on behalf of the marginalized and oppressed—it would bring Hope for all people of all nations who live all around us. If all of us lived to follow Jesus with such intentionality and such trust in the truth of what Jesus said, wow, how might God change the world through us in similar ways?
Many Christians get hung up on whether Gandhi was saved or not, in or out, and that was happening in his day too. Ironically, he pointed them to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:21-27
In the end, I can’t know the heart of another—only God can–and God looks at the heart. We know Jesus died to make all people of all nations right with God, if they are willing. That’s all it takes is a heart turning to him in trust.
Jesus said: 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away… but raise them up at the last day. John 6:37, 39.
Sometimes wonder if God didn’t use Gandhi to rebuke the Christians of his day, like Jesus did the Religious Jews of his day with a Roman Centurion. When Jesus finished the sermon on the Mount, he went into Capernaum where a Roman Centurion, despised by the religious Jews because he was raised in Roman idol worship—yet he showed great faith or trust in the little he did know about Jesus.
Jesus said this about the Centurion:
“Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 8:10-11
Maybe Jesus used Gandhi to remind us all of his love for all nations, and that He is the Hope for all nations, and as a way to challenge those who say they follow Jesus, to put their faith in the words of Jesus as much as Gandhi seemed to do.
Our Opportunity for Impact
Ask yourself: “Do I show compassion and care for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized?”
We are trying to be a church that says Come as you are, and No Perfect People Allowed—why? So that people who feel outcast, forgotten, hopeless in addiction, struggling from past abuses, that all can come and discover the love of God, the forgiveness of God, and the hope of a family of people growing to be like Jesus. But do you actively look for those who are hurting, strugging, or overlooked—do you invite and include them into our community? That’s why we keep launching new Campuses—for local expressions of this community of compassion. And are we self-sacrificial for those we can serve—we are in partnerships in the poorest parts of India, Burundi Africa and Haiti—serving the spiritual and physical needs of people. 10% of all you give goes out monthly to support our partnerships and help start churches to serve people in need. At year end all that comes in above our budget goes first to special projects our partners need done in these countries.
Do we trust God for our provision, and use our wealth and power and influence to serve and help others—to seek first to build God’s Kingdom, or do we fall prey to build our own kingdoms more than God’s kingdom?
Do we seek to be peacemakers? Do we demonstrate love for our enemies? Those we don’t agree with? What about when we’re wronged? Are will willing to be wronged—do we trust the power of overcoming the hurtful wrongs with God’s goodness and kindness? Do we seek to love and do good to those who don’t deserve it?
That’s the way of Jesus. Jesus laid down his very life for you and me, and how much of our lives will we lay down for Him? When we do, the world sees the power of God’s love—and it brings Hope to the nations. Let’s be those kinds of people.