In honor of the upcoming election today we're going to discuss what the Bible says about politics. Disclaimer upfront: we are NOT talking about political candidates. No one currently running for President is actually in the Bible so we'll not be talking about them.
So first we're going to talk about what Jesus had to say about politics. Who knows what the government was during Jesus' time on Earth? (Hint: we talked about this last week a bit with Paul.)
[Let them answer.]
Yep. The Roman Empire was ruled by an emperor in Rome. At the time of Jesus' ministry that would have been Tiberius Caesar, the son of Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of the Roman Empire. Before Augustus, Rome was a Republic, not quite like the republic we have now but not too dissimilar. There were senators, and citizens could vote, they just had very different definitions of what a Senator was. But in Jesus's time the Emperor was in charge. There was still a senate that people could vote for, but their power was greatly diminished from what it was. And if your emperor was crazy, whelp, you just had to live with it.
So in the entirety of the four gospels, what is the ONE THING Jesus said about Caesar and the Roman government? Does anyone know?
[Probably not but let them answer.]
Okay let's turn to Matthew 22:15-22
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
So these Pharisees don't like Jesus and they're coming trying to trap him, to get him in trouble. The Herodians with him? That's basically a Political Party who support Rome. So if Jesus said the wrong thing here, they could go back and tell Rome that Jesus was trying to start a rebellion! And then Jesus would be arrested for sure! So to their question they ask if it's lawful to pay taxes, and what does Jesus say?
"Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's."
That's actually a fairly often quoted verse, sometimes even outside of the context of the Bible and Christianity. But what does it mean? What do you think Jesus was saying.
[Let them answer.]
Jesus is basically saying, "Obey the law of the land."
Paul reiterates this in his letter to the Roman church. That is the church in the capital of the Roman Empire. Rome is to the Roman Empire, what Washington, DC is to us, except even more so. It’s more like Washington, DC, New York, LA, and Chicago rolled into one city. It's not just A city, it is THE City. So turn to Romans 13: 1 -7, and let's see what Paul says to these people who live in the heart of Roman politics.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority[a] does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
What is Paul trying to say here?
[Let them answer]
He's saying obey your government. And you guys, you need to understand, that back then, just like now, tax money was taken from people and put into things they didn't believe in. The emperor could use tax money to build a temple to the Roman gods if he wanted, and that was definitely not something Christians were cool with. But taxes also went to good things, like roads, just like they do now. (Though not schools back then.)
And when Paul was writing this it was during the time when the Roman emperors were a little off the rockers. We're talking about emperors who actively jailed Christians, emperors who did insane things like elected a horse to the Senate.
But if Paul is saying obey the law and the law says Christianity is illegal, isn't that a logical fallacy?
No, I don't want you to read these verses that way. There is an underlying assumption here in Paul's words, in the words of every writer of the New Testament. Faith in Jesus and the practices of the church come first.
A little context before we read it. Remember the book of Acts is basically the history of the early church as written by Luke, the same guy who wrote the gospel of Luke. In this section, Peter and some of the other apostles are jailed by the high priest and the Senate of Israel for preaching about Jesus and they're told not to preach anymore. But an angel comes and releases Peter et al in the night and tells them to go and continue spreading the word. The high priest then demands them to be recaptured and brought before him. Okay someone read.
27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
So is Peter obeying his government here? The high priest and if you look back even the Senate of Israel told them NOT to preach anymore, but he's still doing it. Why?
"We must obey God rather than men."
Boom. There it is.
It's one thing to give tax money to your government and then they use it against your conscious. It's another thing entirely for you yourself to personally do an act that goes against God.
There's a famous Old Testament story that exemplifies this. Does anyone know what it is?
Alright let's turn to the Old Testament book of Daniel. Specifically Daniel 3:8 -18. During this time period, Israel was under the control of the Babylon Empire. Basically there was this Emperor Nebuchadnezzar who ruled everything. But some Israelites worked for him, in his administration, basically civil servants running things. So can someone read Daniel 3:8-18?
8 Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, 11 and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” 13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?” 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17 If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
What is going on here?
Yes the king gave a decree that everyone should worship this god he made. And these three guys, S, M &A were working for this king. They basically obeyed his administrative orders, running his government on a daily basis, but this, this went against God. What's the first commandment of the Ten Commandments? Anyone know?
"You shall have no other gods before Me." Exodus 20:3
This law Nebuchadnezzar gave went directly against that. The first, most important commandment. And so they refused to obey it, even though it meant the king would throw them in a fiery furnace.
Trevor likes to call this the Nazi corollary to the "obey your government thing." If your government comes to you and asks you to do something that goes directly against your beliefs, i.e. kill Jewish people, YOU SHOULD NOT DO IT. And Paul or Peter would not support you doing that.
But this is America, right? And things work a little differently here than they did back then. We don't have a ruler we have no choice in! We get to pick right?
Well sort of. Depending on your political leanings, you may get a President you don't like on Tuesday. And I guarantee sometime in the future you will be disappointed by a presidential election. You will fear for the future of this nation.
And well, that's not very different from how people in the Bible lived. They had no choice over their ruler and they were stuck with whoever. And sometimes they didn't like the ruler they had. And often, their ruler was not a Christian.
So what does the Bible say we should do about our leaders?
Well we're in the Old Testament so let's stay there for a minute. Turn to Jeremiah 29:7. Jeremiah is basically the same time period as Daniel. In this section, Jeremiah is relaying the words God told him to deliver to the people who live in captivity in a pagan government. They are far from home, in a land that worships false gods, under a ruler they don't necessarily like or trust, and what does God say to them?
"Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare."
God tells them to pray for the very nation that captured them! The nation they’re prisoners of!!!!
Now some of you who are Bible savvy might say "well yeah but that's a very specific occurrence and not necessarily universally applicable. God is talking specifically to those Jewish people in Babylonian exile and not to us."
Okay, well let's see what Paul has to say on the matter. Let's turn to Paul's first letter to Timothy, so 1 Timothy 2:1-8.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
—this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;
Pray for our kings and authorities. Without wrath or dissension. Do you guys know what dissension means?
If your political party doesn't win on Tuesday, you're supposed to pray without wrath, without conflict, without anger. Wow.
And there's one last thing I want to mention. There's a lot of talk in this election and every election, about how if the wrong candidate gets chosen, it will basically be the end of the world. Everything will be chaos. It will be the death of America. But I want to remind you guys are hope doesn't lie with America. Where is our hope?
Stay in Timothy and flip back to 1 Timothy 4:10.
"For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savoir of all people, especially of those who believe."
Your hope is in God. Not the president. Not the king. It doesn't matter what comes of America. It's okay to worry about it. It's okay to be active and encourage others to vote for a candidate that you think is best. But whatever happens this week, our hope is secure.
We worship God, not the president. Let's pray.
Additional verses: 1 Peter 2:13-17