In Deuteronomy 17 there is a very interesting set of instructions for kings. I think we could also say they are good for all rulers. They were told first to be of the people, and not a foreigner. He was not to acquire many horses for himself, not to return to Egypt, not to take many wives, not to acquire large amounts of silver and gold, and to read the book of God’s law each day. Let’s bring these symbols up into our modern context. We would say that a ruler must be one of us. That is to understand us and our needs. He is not to seek great strength and power for himself – dare we say even forgetting political consideration for the next election in order to do what is right. He is not to return to the pagan ways of the world and its idolatry. He is to be faithful to his marriage covenant. He is not to seek office for material gain. And he is to read the Scriptures seeking God’s wisdom daily. It seems to me that these are good instructions for a leader in any age. But then I guess I’m expecting too much in our modern world.
Well, the U.S. Government is back to work. Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief. The legislators agreed to take out yet another credit card they can max out over the next four months. It’s a great system by which no individual household or business could ever survive. One Representative, Mo Brooks of Alabama said, “All this does is delay this fight four months. We need to get to the underlying cause of the problem, which is our out-of-control spending and deficits.” Maybe congress went about this in the wrong way considering all the pain and expense it caused, but Brooks is right. It is always the underlying causes that need to be addressed. That is what doctors do in looking at symptoms, and it is what preachers do in exposing sin. And, yes, sin and deficits can be spoken of in the same sentence, but that would take far more than a brief paragraph to examine. It is always the hearts of people that drive the decision that are made. We have progressively denied the hearts of our nation’s people the true wisdom that can only come from the Lord. As a result we reap a chaos that no one really knows how to change. I’m sorry to be pessimistic about the direction of our country, but I am not without hope. My hope is that, seeing where we are as a country, more and more people will be driven to their knees seeking God’s direction and intervention in our affairs. He really does care about all that concerns us.
We have a time of general prayer in our worship on Sundays. We invite prayers from the congregation and then have a series of regular petitions we include. Each week we pray for the leaders of our government. The prayer always asks that they be guided by a wisdom that is beyond themselves. In reading the accounts in the Old Testament we see God directing kings and rulers for His purpose. For example, He says of Cyrus, King of Persia, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please;” and “I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free…”(Isaiah 44:28, 25:13) Cyrus was a pagan king, as were the rulers of Babylon before him. Yet God moved pagan kings to accomplish His purpose. Nothing is out of our Lord’s hands. We are charged in Scripture to pray for our leaders, whether they are believers or not. It seems right to me, especially in the difficult times we face, to ask our Lord to guide them with a wisdom and direction that is beyond themselves, that they will serve in ways that are for the good of our people, and beyond any political considerations of their own.
In Deuteronomy 17 there is a very interesting set of instructions for kings, and we could say all rulers. They were told first to be of the people, and not a foreigner. He was not to acquire many horses for himself, not to return to Egypt, not take many wives, not acquire large amounts of silver and gold, and to read the book of God’s law each day. Bringing these symbols up into our modern context we would say a ruler must be one of us, to understand us and our needs. He is not to seek great strength and power for himself. He is not to return to the pagan ways of the world and idolatry. He is to be faithful to his marriage covenant. He is not to seek office in order for material gain. And he is to read the Scriptures and seek God’s wisdom daily. It seems to me that these are good instruction for any leader in any age, but especially our present day.
A couple of interesting things coming out of government discussions recently. In looking at the Japanese disaster, there was a discussion among several federal congressmen about the level of our preparedness. Do you prepare for an 8.0 earthquake, and its aftermath, or should you try to prepare for a 9.0 quake? One of the senators remarked, “You simply cannot prepare for every eventuality.” And then in the Minnesota state legislature, one of the representatives is up in arms because a Baptist pastor used the name of Jesus several times in an opening prayer. Oh Lord! when do we learn! No, we cannot prepare for everything. Many things in life are out of our control. But at the same time we continue to reject or push aside the one source from whom all help comes. I do not know what is ahead. No one does. But it really is time we took a hard look at the world around us, and spent a lot more time imploring the Lord for His mercy and help.
St. Luke tells us that, “Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.” What is this Kingdom? It was a central part of the message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and all the Apostles. I suppose it is easier to first say what it is not. It is not a kingdom we are going to form on earth. Our own technologies, industry, and skills are not going to bring it about. It will not be formed by politicians, or any form of government and laws. It is not comprised of any church, group of churches, or buildings. The Kingdom is first a relationship, a relationship with Jesus Christ in the knowledge of His love and gracious work for us. In that relationship, our relationship with all others is changed and deepened, seeking to reflect the love we have received from Him. The Kingdom is found in responding to Jesus’ gracious invitation, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt.11:28) This Kingdom will never end.
We call our president “the leader of the free world.” We are impressed by the CEO of a large company, or the head of some great organization. One’s status seems to be an important measuring stick for many. Jesus’ disciples were not immune from such thinking. One day they had something of an argument about which one of them was the greatest. (Mark 9:33-36) Jesus told them that if they wanted to be first, “they must be the very least, and the servant of all.” The amazing thing is that Jesus, God Almighty, the greatest of all, modeled this in His own life. He said of Himself, “I am gentle and humble in heart.” (Matthew 11:29) A life in the Lord Jesus is a life marked by service and sacrificial love. In our natural life this is hard for us, and like the disciples, the desire for recognition pops to the surface now and then. But self-forgetfulness and humility of service, are the characteristics that are truly great in our Lord’s eyes.
My remark yesterday about America not being a Christian nation meets opposition from some people. We are a nation of many Christians, but we must be clear about what a Christian is. The word is thrown around too easily, and is claimed by many people who seek to live a moral, upstanding life. Seventy plus percent of people in the U.S. take the title Christian for themselves. But a Christian is one who believes in the divinity of Jesus, that He is God incarnate come among us, and further, that His death on the cross was an atoning sacrifice for our sins. It is these two beliefs that set Christianity apart from all other world faiths. Christians seek to be moral people, but there are many moral non-Christians. The divinity of Jesus, and the atoning sacrifice, are central to our faith. It is important that our nation was founded by God honoring men, but they are not the source our salvation. That is found only in Jesus Christ.
I usually don’t get involved in speaking about the government as I did yesterday, but it is important to understand the basic principles at the founding of our country. There was a vast difference between the American and the French Revolutions. The American Revolution began a nation founded on the sovereignty of God. The French Revolution sought to remove all reference of God from their nation, which continues to this day. We were not then, and are not now a Christian nation. I’ll say more about that tomorrow. But we are a nation of many Christians, and we follow the injunction of St. Paul in Romans 13:1. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Our task as Christians, is to be obedient to the government, to the extent that conscience allows, and to work for the good of the community in which we live. In doing this we witness to the truth that we are a God fearing people.