A series of devotions on God’s gift of government preached by Pastor Jonathan Werre at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on July 5, 2020.
Part 1—Psalm 2, The Limits of Government
Laughing is not our usual reaction to the news. Laughing is not how we usually react when the news reports on deaths and protests, on the government using, or misusing, its power to deal with Covid-19, on limitations on abortion being struck down by the Supreme Court. When is the last time you laughed when you watched the news?
Do you know when was the last time God laughed at the news? Today. This very day. As it says in Psalm 2, which we are going to sing in just a minute, it says that God laughs at governments and those who imagine they have such power. “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The one enthroned in heaven laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.”
The Lord laughs at them. And it’s not the nice kind of laugh. It is a scoffing kind of laugh. Because the joke is on them. God laughs–at the US government, at the North Korean government, at the Chinese government, at the Russian government—laughs at them to the extent that they think they are really in charge. Because the reality is, God is in charge. And no matter what any government might do, no matter what laws or policies a government might enact or how it may use or abuse its authority, our God will take all of it, all that governments do, to serve HIS saving purposes. To serve HIS saving gospel. Our God will use all of the bad and the good that governments do to serve HIS cause of saving souls that he bought with the blood of Christ shed on the cross.
Now, most of the time nations and governments are ignorant of who is really in charge. That Jesus Christ is their real ruler is hidden from their eyes. But not from ours. Not from ours. The Holy Spirit has given us eyes in our head so we can see what is really going on. He does this by having us learn what the Word says and apply it to our situation. That’s why we need to learn to laugh—not because the news is funny, but because we know from the Word that the joke is on them. For Christ will use all of the good and the bad that governments do, all of it, from the Covid-19 response to the border issues with Mexico to the defunding of the Minneapolis police force—God will use all of that to serve HIS saving purposes and the cause of HIS Gospel.
Which is what everything is really all about in the first place, isn’t it.
We join now in singing Psalm 2.
Part 2–Genesis 9:1-7, The Institution of Government
The first crime recorded in the Scriptures was not theft or fraud, but murder. Just four chapters into the Bible, we read of Cain murdering his brother Abel. And then it gets worse. People started being proud of how violent they were. In fact, at the end of that chapter, we hear an unbeliever named Lamech not just admitting he had committed murder, but bragging about it. And then it gets worse. Do you see where this is going? Eventually it gets so bad–the murder rate, the wars of aggression, the assaults, the domestic violence, the bullying, the child abuse—it gets so bad that God wipes the slate clean, starts over, sends the Flood. And all died. Except Noah and his sons and their wives.
After the Flood, God said, as it were, “This violence has got to get slowed down!”. So he spoke to Noah about a system by which violence would be held in check. He instituted a system that we call “government.” He did this when he said, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”—listen for that in our reading. God wants human beings to carry out justice. Why? To slow down the violence.
Which means that when a Christian who is a soldier or police officer sheds blood in the line of duty, he is doing a God-pleasing thing. Or when a prosecutor legally asks for the death penalty, he is doing a God-pleasing thing, as is the judge who gives the sentence and the executioner who carries it out.
However, sometimes governments misuse the power God has given them. Like the Roman government did when it fed Christians to the lions. Like the Nazi regime did when it sent Jews to concentration camps. Like our government is doing when it lets abortion be legal. Like police forces are being accused of in the treatment of black citizens.
When governments abuse the authority God gives them, God himself will punish them (Ps. 33:10-11). Usually our Lord does this through natural means, like with pandemics, hurricanes, tornadoes, war, civil unrest, famines, economic problems. Governments who misuse the authority God has entrusted to them end up smashing into God’s punishing hand like a bug smashes into a windshield. Because while many may not care that approximately 1,700 unborn babies were legally put to death yesterday or may not care whether George Floyd’s civil rights were violated or not, God does care. For he is a God who is concerned about every single person, individually. For his Son died to pay for the sin of every single person, individually. Including individuals like you and me.
Hear now about that historic moment when God instituted a system that we call “government,” to slow down the violence: Genesis 9:1-7.
Part 3–Romans 13:1-7, The Authority of Government
In school you and I learned that in a democracy like we have in our country, the power comes up from the people. We vote in our leaders in and we can vote ‘em out.
Today, we need to unlearn that. I am about to read a portion of Scripture that says just the opposite. It says that power comes down, from God to governments. Paul puts it this way, “The authorities that exist have been established by God”—not by the people, not by our votes, but by God. Now, just to be clear, God lets us pick who our leaders will be by our votes. God did not pick Donald Trump to be president, the voters and electoral college did. But the authority our president wields comes from God. And to God he will have to give answer.
This is why Christians never, ever rebel against any government. We might engage in a legal, non-violent protest. We may lobby our representatives. But rebel? Never. Not even when the government is a bad one. Because to do so would be to rebel against God. And to rebel against God and his Word is the height of folly. Just ask those who are locked in hell.
Hear now what God teaches us about the authority of government—Romans 13:1-7.
Part 4–Mark 12:13-17, The Distinction of Church and State
There is a distinction between Church and state (government). Not just in the First Amendment of the American constitution, but in Christ’s institution of each, as our Lord says in our gospel lesson, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” He makes a distinction between the two. They are not the same.
As we heard in our last reading, God has authorized the government to control outward behavior. They are to use laws and punishments and fines (Rom.13:1ff). God has authorized his Church to change hearts and save souls. We are to use the Bible, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper. (Matt. 28:19ff).
But what happens? There’s a rub, as churches become tempted to try to do the government’s job and the government becomes tempted to try to do the church’s job.
One place that rub is felt is in education. Education is not just about the head, learning facts; education also aims at the heart to shape a student’s world view, shape their morals, shape their beliefs. But the heart and soul is for the Church to teach, not the government.
So you have to ask yourself, what effect will it have on children when in their public school God and the Bible are considered irrelevant? What effect will it have on young people when their public school accommodates a very different morality than what the Bible says? What effect will it have on young people if they are encouraged to find their self-worth in themselves–as I was when I attended public school—and not in the fact that Christ shed his holy, precious blood for them, giving them an eternal worth, giving them Christ-esteem instead of self-esteem?
Public schools are a blessing in many ways, I myself attended public school. But the reality is that they also come with many dangers. Historically, churches have dealt with this by starting their own schools. This way they can aim to not only fill their students’ heads with knowledge but also fill their hearts with the love and forgiveness won by Christ on the cross, which they do by making chapel and Bible study a regular part of the school day. Our schools get to prepare students not only for the 70 or so years in this world, but for eternity as well—for that is why Christ died and rose again, so that we might by faith spend eternity in heaven with him.
And that’s why Good Shepherd has its own ECC and grade school. And why we are involved with Great Plains Lutheran High School. And while not everyone is always able to take advantage of these blessings, it is always a good thing in the eyes of our Lord that we give these schools our full support.
Hear now as our Lord makes a distinction between Church and state (government) in our reading—Mark 12:13-17