Thinking Biblically about Politics | John 18:33-38, 19:5-11
Brian Hedges | September 17, 2023
Let me invite you to turn in Scripture this morning to the Gospel of John; John 18-19.
We are continuing with a short series called “Thinking Biblically.” For the last couple of weeks we’ve looked at some themes, and we’re just trying to understand how the Bible speaks to these themes. So the first week was on work, and then last week was on identity, and in the coming weeks we’re going to look at family and the church. But today we’re looking at politics, and we’re trying to understand how to think biblically about this issue of politics.
Now, I don’t have to explain to anybody that there’s nothing more divisive in our world and even in our country today than the issue of politics. We’re on the cusp of a new election cycle; the debates have already begun. There will be elections coming up in the next couple of months, and of course, we’re just a little over a year away from another presidential election.
It’s sad to acknowledge the fact that the United States of America is probably more divided now than it’s been in many years, and especially in the last seven or eight years or so there’s been a lot of division. That division has even made its way into the church. Many churches have faced problems of conflict and division within the church, in part related to political issues. So it is important for us to think rightly about politics and about our role in politics in the world, and it’s important for us to think biblically.
What we’re trying to do in this series is essentially ask, “What does the Bible teach?” and in one message give a summary of biblical teaching, and then situation that teaching within a biblical framework, a biblical worldview, taking account of the storyline of Scripture, from creation and the fall all the way to the redemptive work of Christ and the hope of new creation.
We want to do that today with this theme of politics. Now, it might be helpful to begin by just asking, “What is politics?” Of course, the word “politics” literally means “the life of the city,” from the Greek word polis, the word for city. The life of the city. It has to do with the duties or the responsibilities of citizens. A more modern definition for politics would be “the art and the science of government.”
When we begin to think about all the things that are entailed in politics, the list is really long. Again, it’s a list of many divisive issues. Here would be just some of the issues that are political issues, hot-button issues in our current time.
It would include things such as:
the basic rights of citizens
the right interpretation of our Constitution
issues related to foreign policy
the Supreme Court
the relationship between local and state governments to the federal government
the definition of marriage
freedom of speech
and the list could go on
Every one of those issues is a divisive issue in our culture and in the world and oftentimes in the church. These are issues that affect all of us to a greater or lesser degree. Many of these are issues, of course, that also have serious moral and ethical implications to which the Scriptures directly speak. So it’s important for us to think about politics and all of the issues related to politics in a biblical way.
Now, let me just say at the outset this morning that my aim and intention in this message is not to get specific about the issues, much less about candidates. I don’t have a horse in this race—or maybe I should say I don’t have a donkey or an elephant in this race. I’m not trying to promote any particular person or policy. That’s not the goal at all. What I want to do, instead, is present an understanding that I think is true to Scripture of how our thinking about politics in general, and then about the specific issues, should be shaped by the Scriptures and by our supreme allegiance to Jesus Christ as our King.
I think we would all agree at the outset, wouldn’t we, that if we are Christians, if we believe in Jesus Christ, we believe that he is the true Lord, he is the world’s true King, and we believe that we are under the authority of his teaching and under the authority of his word, that there should be something distinctive about a Christian attitude to politics, so that when the world looks on and they hear what we say, they see what we do, they should think there’s something different about Christians and the way they engage in the political process. I think we would all agree with that.
That would be true in every realm of life, that Christianity should affect us in every way. So that’s what we really want to try to examine this morning.
I want to do that by grounding everything in John 18-19, and then along the way I’ll bring in many other passages of Scripture to kind of fill out what the Bible teaches about politics. We can’t say everything, but I want to say three things this morning that I think are true to Scripture and hopefully will be helpful and practical for us today.
Beginning in John 18, we’re going to read John 18:33-38 and then drop down and read John 19:5-11. We’re reading, of course, a portion of the passion narrative as recorded in John’s Gospel, and it’s really the dialogue between Jesus, who is our true King, and Pilate, who was the Roman governor over Judea at that time and the one, ultimately, who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. So John 18:33-38.
“Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’
Jesus answered him, ‘Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?’
“Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?’
“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.’
“Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘Are You a king then?’
“Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’
“Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’ And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, ‘I find no fault in Him at all.’” [NKJV]
Drop down to John 19:5.
“Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’
“Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’
“Pilate said to them, ‘You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.’
“The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.’
“Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, ‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer.
“Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’
“Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.’”
This is God’s word.
Now, of course, we can’t do a complete exposition of this passage this morning; that’s not the goal. You can go back to our series through the Gospel of John if you’d lie more detail on these passages. But instead, what I want to do is focus on some key words in this passage, the words “king” and “kingdom” and “power.” I want to suggest that within this passage there are embedded three important truths that should shape our understanding about politics if we are to think in a distinctively biblical and Christian way. Three important truths. I’m going to give those to you one at a time, show where they are in the passage, and then show you some other passages that also teach this, and then try to tease out some implications for us along the way. Three important truths.
1. The Kingdoms of This World Exist under the Reign of a Sovereign God
That’s first. That’s the first thing I want you to see, that the kingdoms of this world exist under the reign of a sovereign God. You see it in John 19 when Pilate is telling Jesus, “Don’t you know that I have the power to either crucify you or to release you?” And notice how Jesus responds in verse 11. He says, “You could have no power at all against me unless it had been given you from above.”
Just mark that. Jesus says, “Whatever power you have, whatever authority you have as a Roman governor, is power that has been given you from above.”
I think this teaches us something that is taught throughout the Scriptures, which is that political power and governments and the kings and the kingdoms of men exist under the sovereign reign of God. They are ordained by God, they exist under the reign of God, they are accountable to God. The Scriptures teach this over and over again. The very foundation of human government is a divine institution. It’s given by God in both the creation accounts and then established again in Genesis 9 and the covenant with Noah.
Over and again throughout the Scriptures the Bible affirms that the kings and the kingdoms of the world rise and fall under the will of God and according to the will of God. God is sovereign. God is never taken by surprise by a new king or caesar or emperor who takes the throne. He’s never surprised at the results of an election. God is the one who raises up kings and sets them down.
The Bible teaches this over and over again. I could give you many passages of Scripture. Let me just point out a few quickly.
The book of Daniel in the Old Testament is a wonderful book if you want to read about how the people of God should live in a pagan nation. That’s what Daniel is about. Here is King Nebuchadnezzar, who has invaded and razed to the ground Jerusalem; he’s carried off as prisoners of war numbers of young Israelite men, including Daniel. Now Nebuchadnezzar is kind of the focus, and in Daniel 2:20-21, in that context, we read these words:
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding.”
In fact, the Old Testament affirms over and again that even the pagan nations, the pagan kingdoms that are often assaulting Israel and battling Israel, they are under the sovereignty of God. They are the rod in God’s hand. God is the one who sets up kings and who puts down kings and kingdoms.
Four times in Daniel we read these words or a close equivalent to these words. I’ll read from Daniel 4:17. “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”
I don’t know of a stronger statement of the sovereignty of God over human affairs than that. God is the one who reigns.
Then, if you turn to the New Testament, you find the same teaching. This teaching is teased out with some application. Let’s look at just one passage together, Romans 13:1-7. Again, we can’t do a full exposition of this, but you can go back to the series on Romans and hear a message on this if you’d like. Romans 13 says in verse 1,
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. [Notice this.] For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
There you have it. Governments and governing authorities exist under God’s authority, and they’ve been instituted by God. Verse 2:
“Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. [Verse 3 then gives us the purpose of government.] For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.”
If you keep reading, it goes on to say that the authorities are also the ministers of God, and because of this we, therefore, should pay what is owed. We should pay our taxes, we should pay our revenue, we should give respect to those who deserve respect and honor those who deserve honor.
This is all teaching us that the institution of government and various governing authorities are under the sovereignty of God, they are instituted by God, and they are accountable to God.
Now, it’s of course important for us to recognize that, while government and while political leaders and authorities are divinely instituted, and this is part of the creation order, we also live in a fallen world, so these very institutions are also marked by sin and the fall. That means there are no perfect governments. It means that there are no nations that invariably do righteousness in all things. It means that we’re always going to live in a broken system because we live in a broken world. It’s understanding that then nuances how we think about our responsibility to government.
I’m not going to read a lot of quotes in this sermon, but I will give you a couple, and here’s one from John Stott. Maybe John Stott’s a good person to quote; he was not American, he was British, he was from a previous generation, and was a well-known pastor, commentator on Scripture, and a missionary statesman who spoke often about ethical issues. John Stott in his commentary on Romans 13 says,
“We need to be cautious in our interpretation of Paul’s statements. He cannot be taken to mean that all the Caligulas, Herods, Neros, and Domitians of New Testament times and all dictators of our times were personally appointed by God, that God is responsible for their behavior, or that their authority is in no circumstances to be resisted. [That’s an important qualification.] The statement that rulers commend those who do right and punish those who do wrong is not, of course, invariably true, as Paul knew perfectly well. Although he had himself experienced from procurators and centurions the benefits of Roman justice, he also knew about the miscarriage of justice in the condemnation of Jesus. If all provincial courts were just, he would not have needed to appeal to Caesar.”
So, Stott’s qualifications are helpful and remind us that while we can be confident that authorities and the existence of authorities and governments and the whole political process is part of God’s institution in the world, yet we live in a fallen world, and all these ultimately are accountable to God himself. The standard of righteousness by which the rightness or the wrongness of governments and policies and laws should be measured is the standard of God’s own righteousness and his own moral character and moral law.
To summarize here, all of this exists under the sovereignty of God. Maybe the first application for us is that it should just give us confidence that while the world sometimes feels like it’s out of control it’s actually not. God still reigns, and he always reigns. His kingdom will not be thwarted.
2. Jesus Is Our True King, But His Kingdom Is Not of This World
Point number two: we also see from this passage that Jesus is our true King, but that his kingdom is not of this world. This is really important, and I think it’s very clear in the text in John 18:36. Jesus, speaking to Pilate, says, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
Now, he acknowledges very clearly that he is a King. “Pilate, you have said truly that I am a king. This is the purpose for which I have come into the world.” Yet it’s a different kind of kingdom, isn’t it? Jesus is a King, but his kingdom is a unique kingdom, it’s a different kingdom. It’s a kingdom that is not of this world.
This is important for us if we are to live and to think as citizens of Christ’s kingdom. Paul says in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is from heaven, and from it we await the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. So our primary citizenship, if we’re believers in Christ, is in the kingdom of Christ.
Here’s the question. How should that reality shape the way we think about the world in which we live? I want to give you four ways—these are four distinctives of Christ’s kingdom versus worldly kingdoms—that I think can help us as we think about the role of politics, as we think about the problems of the world, as we think about what is really needful in the world today. Four distinctives of Christ’s kingdom versus worldly kingdoms. Essentially what I’m going to say is that it gives us a deeper perspective, a broader perspective, a longer perspective, and a higher perspective.
(1) First of all, it gives us a deeper perspective. The kingdom of Christ offers a deeper analysis, a more thorough analysis of the human condition and of human need and of human problems.
Now, if you think about politics for a minute, anytime anyone is engaged in a political process they’re trying to do something, aren’t they? They’re trying to make things in the world better. That’s what we’re trying to do. Whether it’s what you’re voting for or who you’re voting for or any kind of direct engagement, or even if you’re a civil servant and you serve in office in some way, the goal is to make things better in the world. There’s nothing wrong with that. I wouldn’t condemn that. But here’s the problem: the politics of the world are always looking at things at a somewhat superficial level. It’s never getting to the root problem. It’s never getting deep enough into the real problem. We could look at problems of crime or violence, we could look at problems in the economy, we could look at problems of injustice, we could look at violence; we could look at all of these things, and in politics we’re always looking to get better politicians, we’re looking to enact better laws, better policies, better processes in order to try to solve these problems. But at the end of the day, it’s really just rearranging the deck furniture on a sinking ship! Because the real problem goes much deeper than any of these things in the world.
Jesus, in the kingdom he came to bring, goes for that deeper problem. In fact, in the Gospel of John there’s not a lot about the kingdom of God, but one of the things that Jesus says is found in John 3:5, when he says to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
What Jesus is saying is that we need not just better, we need not just better policies, better systems of justice, we need new hearts. We need salvation, because the problem is not just circumstances, the problem is not just laws and systems, the problem is in the human heart. The problem is that our hearts need to be regenerated and born again. So Jesus’ analysis is deeper than any other analysis in showing us what the real human need is.
(2) Not only that, but the concerns of Christ’s kingdom are broader. The kingdom of Jesus Christ gives us a broader perspective. In most political systems and with most countries or nations of the world, those concerns are going to be somewhat limited to a particular group. It may be local politics, concerns that are limited to that city, or it may be on a state level or even on the national level. But the concerns in Christ’s kingdom are not parochial; they are not limited to one tribe, to one group, to one ethnic group or race or even to one nation. Jesus does not privilege one race or one class or one country over another. His kingdom extends to all. He invites all peoples into his kingdom. His kingdom is to be a universal kingdom; it is to extend to the very ends of the earth.
Brothers and sisters, I think one of the things this means is that when we confuse Christ’s kingdom with earthly kingdoms, our interests become too narrow. We can become so concerned with our own national interests that we neglect the needs of the world. We can be so concerned with temporary concerns that we are missing the deeper concerns, and we can miss God’s overarching plan to extend his kingdom to the ends of the earth. The kingdom of God gives us a broader perspective.
(3) Thirdly, we could say it also gives us a longer perspective. The kingdom of God looks beyond any given political season or election cycle. It looks beyond the rise and the decline or the birth and the death of any earthly kingdom, because his reign is eternal, inaugurated in time and in history in the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Someday it will be consummated when Jesus Christ comes again and sets up his earthly kingdom once and for all in a new heavens and a new earth, in which peace and righteousness will dwell.
We read in our assurance of pardon this morning that Christ has been given a title over every other power. All rulers and authorities and powers and dominions are subject to him! They are subject to him. He reigns over them all, and he does so for the sake of his church. That should give us great confidence that Christ is reigning, no matter what happens in the political sphere.
I think the application here is simply that realizing this should help us to turn down the volume in political discourse. I mean that in two ways. I mean turn down the volume both in what you watch and in what you listen to. I’m not saying don’t be engaged; I watched the debate that happened a few weeks ago and will pay attention throughout this season. But I mean that there is to be a certain degree of detachment, even as we observe, even as we maybe participate in a limited way. But we recognize that not everything rises or falls on this.
I’m echoing another of these great twentieth century British pastors, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I was listening to a sermon of his the other day, and one of the things Lloyd-Jones says is that the gospel and our understanding of who we are in Christ and of Christ’s kingdom and his reign, his plan, it causes us to be more realistic, to be characterized by greater realism than anyone else. That means, on one hand, we won’t be too optimistic, and we won’t be too pessimistic on the other.
We won’t be too optimistic when a particular candidate gets in place, as if this is going to solve all of our problems, because we know it’s not. It’s a broken system, and as good as things may ever get, it’s still going to be a temporary fix.
On the other hand, we’re not going to despair when things don’t go our way politically. We’re not going to despair. We’re not going to be characterized by pessimism, because we know that God reigns, we know that Christ reigns, and we know that his plans and his kingdom will not be thwarted.
It causes us to be more realistic about the problems, but also to be more hopeful, because our hope is centered not in men and women and what they can do in this world, our hope is centered in Jesus Christ and what he has purposed to do. We have a longer-range vision, a longer-range perspective.
(4) Finally, the fact that Christ is the true King and his kingdom is not of this world should give us a higher perspective as well, because the kingdom of Christ is aimed at a higher end, a higher goal, and that end, that goal is the glory of God.
Paul says it well in Romans 11:36. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
3. Our Citizenship in Christ’s Kingdom Defines and Limits All Other Claims of Citizenship
Now, if this is true of Christ’s kingdom and if this is how we should begin to think as citizens of Christ’s kingdom, what are some principles, then, to kind of shape our discourse, our language, and our behavior when it comes to politics? That’s the last thing I want to look at, point number three, in the last ten minutes or so. Our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom defines and limits all other claims of citizenship. That’s the basic point here.
If we are citizens in the kingdom of Christ, that defines everything else, and it limits everything else as well. Again, I think you see it in the text. I think it’s implicit in verse 36 when Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight.”
“My servants.” Who are the servants? They are servants of the King; they are citizens of the kingdom. Jesus says that “because my kingdom is not of this world, that affects what my servants will do.” They’re not going to come fight unjust Pilate in order to secure Jesus’ release. That’s what he’s saying in context.
I think the implications reach far beyond that. If our citizenship is really in the kingdom of God supremely, above every other citizenship, then it should shape the way we engage in everything else.
I want to suggest to you three principles for living as citizens of Christ’s kingdom that I think can shape our approach to politics from our political convictions to political engagement and activity to our conversations with others. Three principles; we’ll go through these pretty quickly.
(1) Number one, the principle of allegiance. If Christ is the true King and his kingdom is not of this world and we are citizens of his kingdom, then surely our supreme allegiance should be to King Jesus. I think you see this taught in many places, but here’s just one, Mark 12:13-17. I won’t read all of this, but this is when some people came to Jesus trying to trap him, so they ask him a question. They’re trying to trap him. They essentially ask him, “Should we pay taxes or not?” Of course, they’re paying taxes to Caesar, right? He’s an emperor ruling over the land of the people of God, ruling over Israel, Judea, Galilee. “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Jesus always outsmarts the people who are trying to question him and trap him. Jesus asks them a question. He knows their hypocrisy. He asks them to give him a coin, and he takes the coin and says, “Whose image is on this?”
They say, “Well, Caesar’s image.”
So he says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but render to God the things that are God’s.”
Just think about the implications of that. If Caesar’s image is on the coin, Jesus says, give it to Caesar. This is the world’s currency. Give it to him. Pay your taxes. Over and again the Bible says that. Give tribute to whom tribute is due; pay your taxes. Do that. But if Caesar’s image is on the coin, where is God’s image? The answer is God’s image is on you. God’s image is on us. It’s on human beings, who are made in the image of God.
That interpretation goes all the way back to the second century, at least, to Tertullian, who said, “Render unto Caesar the image of Caesar, which is on the money, and unto the God the image of God, which is in man. Give Caesar money; unto God give yourself.”
Give yourself to God. Your supreme and primary allegiance is not to a political party, not even to a country. Your supreme allegiance is to God himself.
John Piper, in his new book All That Jesus Commanded, commenting on this exchange, says, “Jesus is demanding absolute allegiance to himself and his ownership and authority. All other allegiances are relativized by this supreme allegiance. All other allegiances are warranted and limited and shaped by this first allegiance.”
Brothers and sisters, that means that no nation on earth, including the United States of America, and certainly no political cause or party or person, can ever usurp our basic allegiance to Jesus Christ as King and our basic obedience to his commands. The principle of allegiance; that’s first. Everything really rises or falls with that.
(2) Secondly, you have the principle of conscience. This is a basic teaching of the New Testament: that we are to seek to keep a clear conscience ourselves and we are to respect and try to safeguard the consciences of others. This is especially true when it comes to what the Bible calls disputable matters. We don’t have time to go into this in detail, but you can read 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14-15, where Paul talks about this. He talks about these matters which are not inherently good or evil in and of themselves, but they are matters over which Christians disagree.
Sometimes this would be certain kinds of food, maybe food that had been offered to an idol in the temple and now it’s being sold in a marketplace. Can a Christian eat this or not? Sometimes it would be certain holidays. Should Christians observe, for example, the Jewish calendar? Or maybe it’s drinking alcohol. Should a Christian drink wine or not? These are matters of disputation.
Paul is very clear in how we are to treat one another in this. We are to stake out our own conscience, but we’re also in public behavior to defer to the conscience of others so as not to cause someone else to go against their conscience, to sin or stumble or fall. And we are not to judge one another; instead, we are to extend grace to one another, knowing that we live unto the Lord. The Lord is our judge.
Listen to Romans 14:7-12, where Paul gives us the basic exhortations in regards to these matters of disputation. He says,
“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. [Here’s the principle of allegiance again.] For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.’
“So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
I think you could take that passage and apply it to the political issues over which Christians disagree. Even if Christians are united in most of their ethical concerns, there are disagreements over particular ways of addressing that. I think we can say that if we apply this it means that Christians should be free both to follow their own consciences while also respecting the liberty of other Christians to follow theirs.
We might apply this to the matter of rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Take voting. We should respect those who wish to vote and wish to vote in a particular way and also respect those who conscientiously feel that they should not vote, as many Christians do feel.
We might take it in regard to military service. There are some believers who feel strongly that it is right to serve their country in the military, and there are others who are pacifists and have a strong conscientious objection to bearing arms or to taking another life.
We might apply this to expressions of patriotism. Christians are varied in how comfortable they are with various expressions of patriotism and loyalty to their country, and also with opinions on any given political candidate or how to best handle certain politcal issues.
Brothers and sisters, let’s not judge one another. Let’s extend grace to one another, let’s respect the liberty and the freedom of others to be true to their own conscience within the boundaries of God’s word, and not judge them, but remember that they live under the lordship of Christ. This is the principle of conscience and Christian liberty and applying that to the realm of politics.
(3) One more—finally, the principle of witness. Here I want to take us to one book of the Bible, the letter of 1 Peter, and read a couple of passages from 1 Peter 2 and 3. This whole letter is written to Christians who are described as strangers and as exiles. They are scattered throughout the Roman empire, many of them are being persecuted, they are suffering for righteousness’ sake, and Peter gives them all kinds of commands about how they are to relate both to governing authorities and how they are to relate to unbelievers and how they are to respond to suffering.
The dominant concern throughout the letter is that they are to maintain their witness by doing good and by responding in the right way to injustice. They are to maintain their witness so that they glorify God and they are always ready to give a rearson for their hope in Christ.
Listen to how Peter spells this out in 1 Peter 2:13-17. He says,
“Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
Then drop down to 1 Peter 3:13.
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect . . .”
Gentleness and respect—this is to people who are persecuting them! How much less should this apply to our online discourse about politics or our over-the-dinner conversations with family members about politics?
“. . . with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.”
Peter’s concern here seems to be to preserve Christians witness, so that through the unblameable, spotless behavior and conduct of Christians Christ is honored, and it causes people to ask a question. “Why are you this way? Why do you live in this way? Why are you so different? What’s the reason for this hope?” That question gets asked when Christians live in a unique way.
I think this means that our kind and compassionate and faithful witness to Christ is more important than gaining or keeping political power, it is more important than winning personal political debates, even if about important issues. It means that how we conduct ourselves is as important as what we say. How we say it matters—gentleness, kindness, respect. That’s important. That’s part of our witness.
I want to end by taking us back to John 19. Having considered these things, which I think are true to Scripture—the sovereignty of God over the kings and kingdoms of men, the kingship of Christ over a unique kind of kingdom, and our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom with some unique responsibilities—here’s the final exhortation I want to give you. In John 19, after this exchanged with Pilate and Jesus, there comes the moment when Jesus is condemned to be crucified, and he is set out before the people, and Pilate says to them, “Behold your king!”
Here’s the exhortation I want us to take to heart in the upcoming political season. More than anything else you do, behold your King. Behold your King clothed in purple, crowned with thorns, the blood running down his face, his hands and his side pierced and wounded for our transgressions and our sins. Behold the King, his back shredded and bloodied and bleeding as he has been scourged for our sins. Behold him there, as he’s hanging on the cross praying for the people who put him there, praying for his enemies. Behold the King, as he dies there as a sacrifice for sinners; as he dies for you, as he shows his humility and his love and his self-sacrifice; and as he brings his kingdom, not through violence and not through force and not through might, but he brings his kingdom through the sacrifice of love. Behold your King, and let your eyes be on Jesus Christ, crucified for you.
May that shape, then, the way you think about the world in which you live. May it set the pattern and the example for behavior and for conduct towards others. May it remind us of the kingdom which Christ came to bring—a different kind of kingdom altogether, and a kingdom in which we can have great hope that it will triumph in the end; that there is coming a day when this king, crucified for us in shame, will return in glory, and when he returns he will bring the kingdom that we’re all longing for, the kingdom that we’re all waiting for, that we’re hoping for, the kingdom where justice and peace and righteousness will reign forever and ever. Brothers and sisters, behold your King today. Let’s pray.
Lord, I pray this morning that anything that I’ve said in this message that is true to the clear teaching and principles of Scripture, that it would stick in our hearts and minds so as to shape us in the way we both think and the way we talk, the way we exchange ideas with others, the way we engage in politics in our world today. Anything that I’ve said that was amiss, I pray that that would quickly be forgotten.
Most importantly, Lord, I pray that you would help us to keep Christ central in our thinking, in our lives, that our allegiance would be first and foremost to King Jesus and that we would see what he has done for us, placing our hope and our trust in him, and then setting Christ before us as our model, our pattern, our example for how we are to live in the world.
Lord, even as we come to the Lord’s table this morning and come to remember once again and observe through the sacrament what Christ has done in giving his body and his blood for us, may it be for us today a means of grace to help us, to imitate Christ, to trust Christ, to abide in Christ. Lord, we need your Spirit, we need your grace working in us what is pleasing in your sight. Lord, our hope this morning is that by your Spirit you would use both the word and the table to accomplish that in us. So we ask you, Lord, to draw near to us in these coming moments, to meet with us at the table as we unite together, not around any particular political ideal but around the King who was crucified for our sins. We pray that he would be honored in this time. We ask it in his name, amen.