Now, I know that you've probably been keeping up with the events in Oklahoma City.
Most of us have. I was on my way to a Jews for Jesus board meeting on Thursday in San Francisco and I had a little extra time and I was reading Time magazine on the plane about all of this. I mean, I just sat there and began crying in the seat. The movie wasn't even on.
You know, people are like, what is with this guy? But, I mean, it's so tragic when you read about those children. And there was a quote in Time magazine from a fellow who had fought in Vietnam who had a child in the daycare center. His child survived but nonetheless this is what he said and I quote. He said, I've seen war, okay? I've seen soldiers I fought with in Vietnam cut this way, cut in half, heads cut off. That was war.
These are children. This is not war. This is a crime. Who could do something like this? End of quote. So the evidence is mounting that the people who did something like this were part of an American phenomenon known as the militia movement, small clandestine organizations like the militia of Montana, the Michigan militia, the Christian patriots. And when I read that and I saw the word Christian somehow connected with this, something inside of me just kind of went, oh, no.
There's not a thing Christian about this. And yet these groups look to the Bible, many of them, as the justification for what they're doing. They brand the United States government as the beast of the book of Revelation. They brand Washington as the anti-Christ. The mark of the beast in their mind is a little microchip that the U.S. government's going to surgically implant in every American. Their hatred and revulsion for the civil government of the United States is unbelievable. They believe that they are the faithful 144,000 witnesses in the book of Revelation whom God is going to call upon to fight and resist the United States government. Waco is their Alamo. And they firmly believe, many of them, that the people who blew up this building was the CIA to give an excuse for Janet Reno to move against them.
And that when Janet Reno makes that move, it will be the beginning of the tribulation period that the Bible talks about. It may surprise you to know that these militia-paranoids are not the first religious radicals and political radicals that have ever looked to the Bible to justify what they're doing. As a matter of fact, in Jesus's day, there was a group called the Zealots who felt about Rome the way these folks feel about Washington. They were violently radical. For them, Rome was the great Satan, and they felt on the basis of the Bible that they could justify any and every kind of violence against Rome. In fact, if they could have gotten their hands on ammonium nitrate and fuel oil back then, there'd be no Colosseum. You understand what I'm trying to say?
They'd have blown it up. Now, in our passage for this morning, these folks come to Jesus and they ask Him a question about our relationship as believers with civil government. And I know I'm diving into a real complicated issue here, but that's where our passage takes us is into our relationship as Christians with the civil government under which we live. And we want to talk about that this morning and talk about the guidelines that God gives us about how to conduct that relationship of us as Christians to our government. Whether you fought in the Vietnam War or you marched in marches against it, whether you've ever written your congressman or your senator about an issue, whether you've ever picketed an abortion clinic, whether you exempted your child from Fairfax County FLE sex education program, somehow every one of us here has interacted as Christians with our political system. How do we conduct ourselves in that way? Well, let's see if we can get some insight into that this morning. Look at verse 20.
Here's where we start. And keeping a close watch on Him, on Jesus, they, the religious leaders of the day, sent spies who pretended to be honest men. They hoped to catch Jesus in something He said so they might hand Him over to the power and the authority of the governor. So the spies questioned Him and they said, teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, that you do not show partiality, that you're not a politically correct person, but you teach the way of God in accordance to the truth. Now they start off by flattering Him, saying we know whatever the issue is, you're going to take the right hand, even if it's the hard stand, you're not going to waffle, you're not going to be a PC person on this.
And they figure by that to get Him Jesus to drop His guard a little bit, you know, and maybe to step into a trap. When I first came to McLean here years ago, I had a friend who told me, he said, Lon, watch out for the guys who greet the train. Say what? He said, yeah, the people who are standing there on the station to greet your train when it pulls in, watch out for them. The people who think you're the best thing since sliced bread and that's what they tell you, because usually those guys have an agenda on their own that they're trying to recruit you to accomplish. Watch out for those people. Man, was he right.
And Jesus, these guys were trying to get Him to kind of relax and play their game. But anyway, they ask Him the question, and here's the question, verse 22, is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Now for these fanatical Jews of Jesus's day, this was not just an academic question.
It wasn't even just a financial question. It was a religious question. They said the Bible teaches there's only one God. The Bible teaches that He's the only King. The Bible teaches that everything in the world belongs to Him. And for Caesar to ask us to give him taxes, Caesar, the emperor is a big usurper of God's power and therefore we will not pay taxes.
It's not appropriate for us to pay any taxes to him. He's not really the King. God is. Now they want Jesus to take sides on the issue. And you understand if Jesus says, well, yes, you should pay taxes to Caesar, then they're going to turn around and say He's a traitor to His own nation. He's a traitor to His own people. He doesn't serve God. How can He be the Son of God and say something like that? And they could get rid of Him. Or if He said, no, you shouldn't pay taxes to Caesar, well, man, they were ready to run right out to the local governor and say, there's a guy out here teaching that you shouldn't pay taxes to Caesar.
Y'all need to go deal with him. So they thought they had him. Now look what Jesus said. Jesus said to them, hey guys, He said, show me a denarius. He saw through their duplicity and He said, show me a denarius, a Roman silver coin, whose portrait and inscription are on it. So they reached in their wallet and they took out a Roman denarius.
And of course on the front of the coin, the obverse, numismatically speaking, is a picture of the emperor. He said, well, Lon, what are these people, if they hated Rome so bad, what are they doing carrying around Roman money in their wallet? Well, the answer to that is there was no Jewish money. You say, yeah, why didn't they carry Jewish money?
There was no Jewish money. In these days, the right to print currency or to stamp coins was very carefully controlled because it was synonymous with having political power over an area. And therefore the Jews were not allowed to coin their own money because they were not the ones who had the political authority Rome did. Interestingly enough, when the Jews revolted in 66 A.D. against Rome, one of the very first things they did is start coining their own money because that was the way of them saying, see there, we're now independent, we're in charge, we're coining our own money.
But they weren't in charge here and they didn't have their own money. So they pull out this money with Caesar's picture on the front and Jesus said, well, gosh, guys, the very fact you're carrying it with Caesar's picture on it and that's what you're spending proves that at least at this moment in time, God's put you under Rome, huh? And here's what he says. They said, well, Caesar's picture's on it. So Jesus said, well, then, give to Caesar what is Caesar's.
Not just taxes, but the honor and the respect and the submission to authority on the civil level that's due him. And he says, then give to God what's God's. That same honor, that same respect and that same submission to authority in the things of God. By the way, I might just take a break and say here, if you're around this morning and you've never trusted Jesus Christ in a real and personal way, what does God want from you? Say, well, God wants me to give up everything that's fun.
No, no, no, no, no, no. God wants from you exactly what Jesus said, to give to God the things in your life that should belong to God. The honor, the respect and the submission to authority as the creator and the Lord of the universe that he deserves. That's what he wants from you.
How do you do that? Through a personal submission of your life to Jesus Christ. So if you're here and you've never given your life to Christ and you want to know what does God want from me, that's what he wants from you.
You give to God in your life the things that belong to him. Something to think about. Well, it says, the end of the passage says, and they were unable to trap him in what he said there in public, and they were astonished by his answer so that they became silent. I mean, he shut them completely up. They had absolutely nothing to say.
They were dumbfounded. Now, hey, that's an accomplishment. You know where there's two Jews, there's three opinions. You understand that?
To shut them up completely, that's a job, and he did it. Now, that's the end of our passage, but of course it leads us to ask the question. What's our question?
So what? Yeah, a lot of them. I don't have a denarius.
I never seen one in my life. No Caesars around, and I pay taxes. So what is the big whoop here? Okay, well, let's talk about it. The big whoop has to do with our relationship to human government. And to talk about that, I want us to switch passages to Romans chapter 13, and that's page 804 if you're using our copy of the Bible. Romans chapter 13, page 804. Now, I don't know who you think came up with the idea of human government, but it may surprise you to know that it wasn't people. God was the one who came up with the idea of human government. If you read in Genesis chapter 9, you'll find that God created human government, the institution of human government, right after Noah's flood. And the reason God made it, there are three of them, and they're all found right here in Romans 13.
Look with me. First of all, look at verse 3. It says in verse 3, Romans chapter 13, verse 3, that rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.
Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right, and he will commend you. The first reason God set up human government was to encourage right doing.
He'll commend you for doing right, the king will. The second reason God set up human government is in the end of verse 4. It says there the ruler is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. So the second reason God set up human government is not only to encourage right doing, but to punish wrongdoing.
And third, the last reason is in the beginning of verse 4. It says for he that is the king, the government, is God's servant. The King James translation says for the common good or for the good of all. In other words, the other purpose of government is for the common good to establish a stability and an order in society that benefits everybody. So what's the purpose of human government?
To encourage right doing, to punish wrongdoing, and to maintain order in society so that everybody benefits. Now in this sense, God tells us in the Bible that we should look on civil government as a friend, for without it, no stable human society could exist anywhere in the world. And friends, no matter how bad a civil government may be, anarchy is worse. If you don't believe me, just take a look at what's happened in Rwanda for the last two or three months, and you'll see what happens when there's no government, no authority, and everybody's free to do whatever they feel like doing. That is a massive human tragedy that happened over there. But anarchy reigns there. And when anarchy reigns, man, you got real problems. God is telling us, not that every secular government is righteous, not that every secular government is benevolent, not that every secular government is godly and perfect, but what he's telling us is not even that we shouldn't try to improve human government.
We should. But God is saying that civil government, the institution of civil government, needs to be seen as a gift, a blessing to human society from God himself. Now that brings us to our personal relationship with human government as Christians, and that's in verse 1. Every one of us, it says in verse 1, must submit ourselves to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except which God has established, and the authorities, the governments that exist, have been established by God. God is calling upon us as Christians to submit ourselves to the authority of whatever civil government we find ourselves under. You say, Lon, you mean if I'm a Christian and I find myself under a dictator that I'm to submit to that dictator like Castro? Yes. You mean to tell me, Lon, if I'm a Christian and I find myself in a communist country that's atheistic and knows nothing about God and tries to dismantle the church that I'm to submit myself to that government? Yes. You mean to tell me, Lon, that if I live here and I find myself living under Marion Barry in the D.C. disaster that I'm to submit to that?
Yes. Yes, that's what God's saying because there is no government that exists on the face of the globe today, verse 1 says, except that God has allowed that government to exist. You say, wait a minute, Lon, wait a minute.
Just time out. Are you trying to tell me that God established apartheid? Are you trying to tell me that God established legalized abortion? No.
No. God does not condone human rights violations. God does not condone the murder of innocent children. And this is not what Romans 13 is saying.
What Romans 13 is saying is that even with their sinful policies, even with their unrighteous policies, every government that's in place on earth today exists and continues at the pleasure of Almighty God. You know, Jesus believed this. Remember when he stood in front of Pilate, John chapter 19, and Pilate said to him, hey, what do you mean not talking to me? Don't you understand I have the power to crucify you and I have the power to let you go free?
Don't you dare stand here and snub me. And Jesus said to him, Pilate, I got something I want to tell you, pal. You could have no power against me at all unless it had been granted to you from on high. The only reason you're in that seat, pal, is because God's letting you sit there right now. And I like what Psalm 75 says, not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation. God is the judge. He's the one that puts down one ruler and that exalts up another ruler. And when God is ready, my dear friend, God can and God will bring down any earthly government and deal with them for their unrighteousness.
But as long as God lets that stand, it's because in some way, shape or form, God wants it to stand because it is serving some part in God's overall plan for the universe. Sayin' Allah, wait a minute, wait a minute, again. You're trying to tell me that Nazi Germany, killing 6 million Jewish people and at least as many other Polish people and Slavic people, you're trying to tell me that Nazi Germany serves some kind of positive plan in God's overall kingdom? I mean, get real here.
What possible good could Nazi Germany have possibly served? Answer that. Well, I can't. I mean, I'm not God. I don't know. But I can take a guess.
I can think of at least one. Do you realize, friends, that humanly speaking, there would be no nation of Israel today were it not for the worldwide sympathy that was generated after World War II for the Jewish people because of the Holocaust, because of the concentration camps? It was because of that worldwide sympathy that the world was willing to create a homeland for the Jewish people we call Israel today. Just about every Christian I know would say that Israel, the nation of Israel, is at the centerpiece of God's timetable for the end of the age.
How did it come into being? Well, Nazi Germany laid a major part in the nation of Israel coming into existence in time and space. Now, I'm not smart enough to figure out whatever else God was doing with Nazi Germany.
But friends, listen. God knows what he's doing. He's got a plan that's bigger and broader and wider than any of us can ever figure out. And believe me, every government in existence today plays some part or God would remove it. And that's why the Bible says these things exist because God wants them to. And our responsibility as Christians is to submit to their authority. Listen to what Peter said.
Peter said, 1 Peter 2, verse 13, submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men, whether to the king as the supreme authority or to governors who are sent by him, and on and on and on. Say, okay, well, this is cool. I mean, you're done early. Let's go home.
Let's go have lunch. Well, wait a minute. Not quite.
Hold on just a second. It's not quite that simple. Because you see, we've got a little problem. The problem is the same Peter who wrote and said submit yourself to every human authority was the same guy who in Acts chapter 5 stood in front of a human authority, the great Sanhedrin of Israel. And they said to him, you are not allowed to go out and preach the gospel anymore in the streets of Jerusalem.
And he said to them, I have to obey God, not you guys. So I'm going out and preach. I'm going to defy you. I'm going to rebel against what you're telling me to do. And you deal with it.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Sanhedrin. I'm going into the street and you deal with it any way you want to. You say, well, now this is crazy. How could the guy write one thing like this and then go do another? Got a little problem.
So maybe we can take a couple more minutes to talk about this. Because you see, what Peter was dealing with is those instances where either the government is doing something so violently immoral or the government is doing something that prohibits us as individual Christians from obeying God. And in those cases, Peter is saying, I have to obey God instead of man. Hodge, the great theologian said, the obedience with the scripture commends us to render to our rulers is not unlimited.
There are cases in which disobedience is a duty. Now that's a dangerous statement. It's not dangerous because it's not true. It's true.
It's dangerous because it doesn't have any guidelines. I mean, when does disobedience become a duty? And how far do we take that disobedience? Well, he didn't answer that.
You say, well, Lon, what is the answer? Friends, down through the centuries, great men and women of God have argued about where to draw those lines and they haven't always been able to agree. For example, during the Reformation in Germany, there were three great leaders of the Protestant Reformation. They all knew each other.
They were all friends. There was Martin Luther, there was John Calvin, and there was Sphingli. Sphingli and Calvin were in Switzerland and Martin Luther was in Germany. And all three of them, they loved the Lord, they walked by faith, they worshiped God, but they all drew the line very differently on this issue. Martin Luther said, no political activity by the church is okay. The church should have nothing to do with politics at all.
Just preach the Gospel. Calvin said, we need to work inside of the government to make the government better, work with the governing authorities, but to go outside of the governing authorities, that's not appropriate. Sphingli actually died in battle fighting with a Protestant army that he was defending his Protestant cities from attack and he died in open warfare, wielding the sword. Well, those guys didn't exactly agree where you draw the line on politics, did they? If they were alive today and they were dealing with political issues, Luther would say, hey, the church has nothing to do with politics, just preach. Calvin would be part of the moral majority and be on James Dobson's show twice a month and Sphingli would be in jail with Operation Rescue.
I mean, that's where these guys would fall out on this. You say, okay, Alon, okay, well then which one of them is right? The answer is all three. Say, what? All three?
Man, you've been hanging around Capitol Hill too long. All three can't be right. Well, wait a minute, wait a minute, hold on just a second. Listen, this is what I'm trying to say to you is that the Word of God does not give us any neat, clean guidelines as to where to draw these lines of when we should obey God and not man. And so what I'm really trying to say to you is that when the Bible doesn't give us hard and fast guidelines, it's left to us as Christians to interact with God and within our own conscience decide where for us those guidelines are. Luther drew them at one place. Calvin drew them at another place.
Sphingli drew them at another place. And each one of them could look God right in the eye and say, I believe I'm doing what's right. As a Christian, was it right for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great pastor, to oppose Hitler? Was it right for Corey Tenboom to oppose the government and smuggle Jewish people out of the country? As a Christian, was it right for us to smuggle Bibles into communist East Germany, which was done for years? Or should we have just waited for God to deal with those regimes? As Christians, would it have been right to march against the Vietnam War? Would it have been right to sit down and protest apartheid outside the South African Embassy? As Christians, would it have been right to go march in the streets with Martin Luther King Jr. and defy local authority? As a Christian, is it right to picket an abortion clinic, even to trespass and get arrested to try to disrupt the business for the day? Or should we just write our senator?
Those are pretty tough questions, huh? And the answer is, you and I as Christians have got to decide in our own conscience what God is giving you the liberty to do. But remember, there are many other fine Christians who are going to pray about that same issue and they're going to come out at a different place than you come out.
Some of them are going to be more radical than you and some of them are going to be less radical than you. And that doesn't mean that they're not fine Christians and that they don't love God. It just means their conscience and their walk with God leads them to draw the line at a different place than you draw the line. And you need to respect their liberty to draw the line where they're comfortable just like they need to respect your liberty.
But you say, Lon, listen, one more question before we stop. Aren't there any outer limits? I mean, isn't there a point past which we can't go as Christians in resisting the government? I mean, does that mean we can have a, you know, like we can rebel like the American Revolution and just throw off government and start over? I mean, where are the lines here? Well, I believe the Bible gives us a line beyond which no Christian's allowed to go in this we're going to serve God rather than man thing. And the line is given very simply when Jesus said to his disciples, you go out into the world system and you'd be crafty as foxes, but you'd be harmless.
Here's the key word. You'd be harmless as doves. See, I believe the outer limit the Bible allows on any resistance to the unrighteous practices of human government is this. We can go as far as our conscience allows us to go so long as, listen carefully, so long as whatever harm you're risking is harm to yourself and nobody else.
You understand what I'm saying? When Dietrich Bonhoeffer opposed Hitler, the only person he was risking harm to was himself. Hitler had him executed in a concentration camp, but that was him.
He didn't involve anybody else. When Corrie Ten Boom smuggled Jewish people out of Germany, the only person she was risking harm to was herself. Friends, when people marched in Vietnam protest and burned their draft cards, they were resisting, but the only person that was going to get hurt or thrown in prison was them. And when we were smuggling Bibles into East Europe, when people were running underground churches in Communist China, when people were marching in the civil rights marches, the only people that they were endangering were themselves. If you want to sit down in front of an abortion clinic and get yourself arrested, that's your business. But hey, when we start talking about blowing up abortion clinics, when we start talking about shooting, abortion providing doctors, when we start talking about bombing federal buildings with hundreds of innocent people inside, then we've crossed a line that I don't believe any of us, no matter how unrighteous our government may be in our opinion, there's a line that as Christians we are not allowed to cross.
When we begin involving harm for other innocent people in our attempt to make a statement, now Jesus said, you can't do that. You've got to be harmless. I had somebody come up to me in the foyer after first service and say, well, then does this mean that we can blow up the building after everybody gets out at night? No, that's not your building. You can't blow it up after everybody gets out at night. You understand? You say, but Lon, what if the government's dead wrong?
I mean, what if their behavior is intolerable? I mean, what about that Waco thing? Did you see what they did down there?
What about 1.1 million abortions a year in America? What do you do with that? Brandon, let me tell you something. Psalm 75 says God is the one who judges. He's the one who takes rulers down and puts rulers up. And at some point, all of us as Christians have got to realize we're going to reach the limit of what we can do humanly. And we're just going to have to leave it with God. Hey, God is the one who judges. Believe me, nobody's getting away with anything, folks. Every king, every prime minister, every president, every governor, every mayor, every attorney general, they're all going to stand before God. They're going to deal with what they've done. But you and I as Christians do not have the right to cross over the barrier God gave us to be harmless as doves to decide that we're going to wreck vengeance on them here.
That's not our job. God is the one who judges. You've got to leave him with God. And I'm glad that I've got a God that's big enough that I don't have to worry. I can leave him with God, and God's plenty big enough to take care of it.
I'm glad I got a God like that. Let's see if we can summarize what we've said this morning. What is our responsibility as Christians to civil government? We are to submit to the authority of civil government, understanding it's there, even unrighteous governments, because God wants them there. And if the civil government that we're involved with is doing something that is a moral outrage, or if the civil government is doing something that is prohibiting us from obeying God in our personal lives, then yes, there are times we must obey God rather than man. But the principle is, it's as far as your conscience will let you go, and the only harm that you're allowed to risk is harm to yourself. Well, I've answered all the questions, but I hope I've given you some principles that you and I as Christians can use to think, how are we going to interact with the many and complicated political issues we have going on in our society today?
And I hope this will be helpful. Let's pray. Lord Jesus, you realize better than we that this whole issue of politics and civil government is a very complicated one. There's not a government anywhere in the world that we could support everything they do as being godly and righteous. And so every one of us, no matter what country we call home, is confronted with this issue of what do we do when a government is out of step with you, or when they try to keep us from being in step with you? Lord, I thank you for giving us some guiding principles to try to decide what we can and can't do, what we should and shouldn't do. Use these principles in our lives and give us, Lord Jesus, give us the ability to be gracious with other Christians who may not exactly come down drawing the line where we would on every one of these difficult issues. Father, we'd like to pray for the United States government. I'd like to pray for our president, our senators, our congressmen, our governors and mayors and local officials that they would listen to you, that they would change policies in our country that we feel are morally outrageous and are disobedient to God so that we as Christians wouldn't have to feel this tension between obeying you and being obedient to our government. But Lord, in the meantime, and if you never make those changes, help us to react in such a way that we're biblical and that we honor God in the way we react in these situations. And we pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen. Amen.
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