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# Not My Emperor?

#notmypresident #notmyking #notmyemperor What would Jesus Tweet? What did Jesus do? 1 Peter answers both questions, and tells us what we should do too.

Corby Stephens
Corby Stephens
11 min read
# Not My Emperor?
Photo by Katie Moum / Unsplash

Table of Contents

The following text is the transcript from a sermon given on April 30th, 2023 at Christ Our Hope Anglican Church in Olympia, WA. You can also listen to the audio. Better yet, subscribe to the podcast! :-)

It's good Shepherd Sunday and guess what? I'm not going to give a good shepherd sermon because I've heard several and they're wonderful. Hearing about Jesus as a shepherd and his sheep recognizing his voice; the pictures about how shepherds in Israel would have a distinctive whistle or a distinctive call that only their sheep would recognize... There's some beautiful pictures about leading by still waters and green pastures. But I think we know that. I think we get that. That Jesus is the good shepherd and we are his sheep. I know sometimes it’s kind of rude to be referred to as sheep because they tend to be dumb. But that's not the point of Jesus making this comparison. He leads and we follow. I had never connected the picture of the shepherd, which is at the end of our First Peter reading, to the content that's more at the beginning of the First Peter reading. Really Peter is tying these ideas together.

Verse 25 says: “for you were straying like sheep but have now returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls.” Jesus is this shepherd and he gets very specific as to certain areas in which we need to follow him, and not just follow him, but follow his example.

By this I mean, don't just go where he goes; we are supposed to do what he did. Isn't that what Jesus himself said? Go and make disciples and teach them all the things I've commanded you, baptizing and doing more of what I did. So it's not just being sheep and following. Sheep, beget sheep. Some have said healthy sheep reproduce. Jesus made disciples. We go and make disciples. We do what he did.

This includes a very touchy area that goes by the name of politics. I don't get political except where the Bible gets political and I don't take party sides or promote party sides, but we are kind of a mess in this country when it comes to being Christians and being political. I might make some references to individuals and I'm going to try to shape those references in a way that makes sense related to the passage. Please forgive me if I sound like I'm either loving on or hating on your preferred assembly of people.

Peter was responding to things happening in churches, and trying to make corrections to things that have come his way. It says among other things in verse 13: “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.”

Part of the difficulty of this is America is weird governmentally; we're both a republic and a democracy. We have two houses of government that kind of do the same job but differently. And we the people elect people to make those decisions and make those things happen. That's really unheard of in the cultures of this book, the Bible. The Bible doesn't really address democracy. God's model for things is a theocratic monarchy. God is king. You don’t vote for him. That's just not how this works. We have been raised with the idea of freedom. We can have free speech and we can have all these other freedoms. It's really a lot about us. That's how we culturally tend to think. Does anybody remember the hashtag not my president? I am pretty convinced that Christians have had a similar problem since the very beginning. We read “to be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be emperors as supreme or governors.” I wouldn't have been surprised, if they had had Twitter then, that it would have been hashtag not my emperor. As Gentiles, learning the ways of God, learning the ways of Jesus and adopting this Jewish religion before suddenly realizing, “Oh, well, there's God who's king, but then there's this other guy named Caesar who's king.”

God appoints governors over people and sometimes they're good and sometimes they're bad. And yes, there is an aspect of obeying God rather than man in some cases. There aren't as many as we would like to make them out to be in our modern day America. They, in many cases, were given because Christians had to go to a temple, pick up a bit of incense and sprinkle it onto a fire and basically say “Caesar is Lord.” And if you didn't do that, you were in big trouble.

Well, that's one of those instances where a Christian has to decide is Jesus Lord or is Caesar lord? Do I make a sacrifice of incense to this person? That would be one of the situations where it's like “I can't do that.” God is my God. Jesus is my Lord. Caesar is not. We don't face those kinds of persecutions in America. Other parts of the world do and that’s why we continue to pray for them. The worst that can happen to us here is we can be canceled in our fun cancel culture.

But that's not what God wants. Some Christians try to weave their faith into something they really like and make it more Christian than it actually is. We have done this with politics. There are some who believe that America is God's chosen people in God's chosen country.

I read this differently. There are some who believe and have written books saying that Donald Trump is the second coming of Christ. Now, your reaction to that might be (if you're not a Trump fan) why him? But your reaction should be not to who, but to what he's being elevated as: a Messiah. This is how I know he's not: he's not Jesus. That's the first test because Jesus himself said he's coming back. He's not going to come back in the form of another person. He's coming back personally. But it's that weaving of faith and politics and elevating things to a place they should not be in order to say, “Well, I'm obeying God rather than man.” Wrong. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. That is incorrect.

However, we can't take the other extreme and reject everything. This is not easy to talk about because I have friends and even some family who have moved in this direction. When COVID hit and government restrictions came into play, some states began to get looser than others with enforcing restrictions. Others moved to different parts of the country because they felt that their God given rights were being violated. Again, mixing God and politics together and making enormous life changes by moving to states where they felt more free.

Did God tell you to do that? If God was telling you to move to this other state, was he telling you that before all this happened? Or is this a knee jerk reaction? I'm not trying to make a judgment on those people necessarily. It was just an interesting observation that these families who were very involved in church and very involved in Christian culture where I live left when they were told they had to wear a mask.

“Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to the governors, as said by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good for this is the will of God.”

Did you know that God uses ungodly people to deal with the people of God? In Jeremiah 25, Jeremiah is being given a prophecy about how Nebuchadnezzar is going to come from Babylon and conquer the northern kingdoms and then the southern kingdom. He says, “my servant, Nebuchadnezzarr.” Did Nebuchadnezzar even know who God was at the time? No, but God saw him as his instrument to deal with his rebellious people. That was his decision. That was his call. So when Peter says governors are sent by Him to punish those who do evil, sometimes God sends leaders to places to deal with problems. Whether they're a good leader or a bad leader doesn't matter. What they produce is what God wanted in that instance. That's not always easy to swallow.

Does God do that in America? Probably. I don't know which ones were sent as rewards and which ones were as punishments. No clue. But I know that God does do that because Peter said this is the will of God.

“Why though that by doing good, you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people?”

I kind of wish Elon Musk had bought Twitter and shut it down. No more social media. No more Twitter because there's just a lot of foolishness on there about everything. But as we do good as we follow God's and Jesus' example, it is supposed to silence the ignorance of foolish people. He says, “Live as people who are free...” There's that fun American word again: Freedom.

Even though we are free from serving sin and death and the flesh, we're not just free. We actually have a new master. We're still servants. The new master is now Jesus. The new master is now God. We're not free to have our own independent will. We submit our will and our hearts and our everything we have to Him.

“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover up for evil, but living as servants of God.” What does that look like, Peter? Honor everyone. Everyone. Who's everyone? Everyone! Lord give me strength.

“Love the brotherhood.” Well, that sounds like a no brainer. Why does Peter even have to mention that? Because sometimes we forget! Because sometimes it is our brotherhood who are saying really stupid things in politics and in faith, but I have to love them.

“Fear God.” There is so much fear about just about everything else other than God. Not just in our world, but in church stuff and Christianity. What happened to the fear of God?

Not like a “Oh no, I'm terrified of God because he's gonna crush me!” but like this reverence... that acknowledgement that God is God and he could just blink an eye and all of this would be gone. But he also loves us. He loves his creation. He loves us. He made us in his image and there is a plan for all of this that's happening. But where is the fear of God? It's hard. It's getting harder to find because we're supposed to be afraid of other things.

Honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the emperor.

That was one of the first things Jess and I noticed, coming to the Anglican Church, was when it came time for the prayers of the people. We prayed for whoever was the president. I can't remember if it was Obama still or Trump yet at the time, but we prayed for Barack Obama by name. We prayed for Donald Trump by name. We pray for Joe Biden by name. Why? Because he's the president! Do we not want him to do a good job? You're not praying like “Lord made the fleas of 1,000 camels infest his armpits!” That's not, that's not the kind of prayer that we're supposed to lift up for these people. It’s like, “Lord, make him a good leader. Lord, make whoever that is, draw them, make them a follower of you.” That's what we're supposed to pray and what we do pray. A lot of churches in our country would pray against President X and for non-president person, but whoever that is, honor the emperor.

Let’s move to verse 18. “Servants be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust.”

Again, in our culture, in our country, we don't really have a servant-master system, but we do have an employee and employer system where I voluntarily give my time and my blood and my sweat and all of that to somebody else who then in turn takes care of me. That would be one way to describe a good servant-master relationship. The servant serves the house, serves the people in the house, serves the master of the house and is provided for. I think Joseph would be a good example of that when he was in Potiphar’s house up until the false rape accusation. But up until then, that would be a good biblical example of it.

But Peter says not just to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust. Ever had an unjust boss? That's no bueno. That's no fun to have a boss who's uncommunicative or abusive. You want to do a good job with all integrity because that's what God tells us to do and they're just a jerk. Peter says to the just and also the unjust. “For this is a gracious thing when mindful of God.” - not mindful of self. That's usually what my mind is full of. “One endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” We might say, “But that's not fair!” Well, that's what our shepherd did. “For what credit is it when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure...” When you mess up, you get punished. That's how it works. “But if when you do good and suffer for it, you endure. This is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” Mindful of God, not mindful of self. “For to this you have been called.” I’ve been called to this kind of suffering? Yep! “Sign me up. I'm going to be a Christian. I'm going to suffer!” Nobody says this, but that's part of the deal.

“For to this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you leaving you an example so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin. Neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled. He did not revile in return.” Jesus, as the word of God, did not speak anything in return to his being reviled. In the beginning was the word and the word was God. But with God and the word was God. Jesus is the word. When God said, “Let there be light,” I believe that's an expression of Jesus. When God said, “let the heavens, and the stars, and the animals and the seas...” when God speaks, it's somehow this expression of Jesus because he is the word of God. And when the word of God was reviled, the word did not revile back. That is hard.

There was a video I just saw online when I couldn't sleep. I was flipping through because that's the one thing you're not supposed to do when you can't sleep is to flip through videos on your phone. I’m guilty. It was of a man at a football game who was a fan of the New England Patriots. He had his jersey on, but he was at a Raiders game. This woman in a Raiders jersey was just screaming at him. You really couldn't even hear because it's the noise of the stadium, but she was up in his face and her arms were flying and I'm sure there was alcohol involved. She was just going at it on this guy and this guy just kind of stood there with his hands in his pockets and just kind of smiled. I would’ve found it funny. I'd be like, “You're crazy.” Then she spun around and she hugged her husband like she did this amazing thing and they went back at him some more. He didn't say a word, didn't revile back, didn't do anything. Interestingly, the owner of the Patriots invited him to the head office and gave him either some tickets or season tickets because he kept his cool and didn't fight back. I thought that was very powerful (and people should stop taking sports so seriously). When he was reviled, he did not revile in return.

“When he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly, he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness by his wounds you have been healed, for you are straying like sheep but have now returned to the shepherd and overseers of your souls.”

Jesus, as our good shepherd, does not only take us where we need to go, but he shows us what to do along the way. If he was honored, we get honored. If he was reviled, we get reviled. We shouldn't be surprised at that. In fact, we should expect that. So as we celebrate our Good Shepherd today, as we celebrate his death and his resurrection in, in the bread and in the blood, that was for us and an example for us, let's just meditate on that idea of, “OK, Jesus. If you're really real, if you're my shepherd and you went there and you did that, please give me the strength to go there and do that as you will. To be less mindful of ourselves and more mindful of God.” Because as we said last week, this is getting real. To honor the emperor? We have to do that. We're supposed to do that because Jesus did it. I'll let the Holy Spirit finish this sermon for you in your hearts for now.

Let's pray.



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