Scriptures and Thoughts on Sovereignty

Defining Sovereignty:

 The Hebrew, Greek, and English words all convey the idea of a kingly reign.

 (Psalm 103:19) The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

 (1 Chronicles 29:11-12) Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.

(2 Chronicles 20:6)  and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.

 (Psalm 115:3) Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

(Psalm 135:6) Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.

 (Job 42:2) I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

(Daniel 4:35) All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

How can modern Americans grasp the concept of sovereignty?

 (Romans 13:1-6) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 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.Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.

 If God is sovereign, why do men perish when God does not will for any to perish?

 (2 Peter 3:9) The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

(Matthew 7:13) “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.

(Matthew 23:37) “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

 Why does God allow bad things to happen?

 (Romans 8:28) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

 (Proverbs 16:4) The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.

(Genesis 50:18-20) 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[b] should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Consider the end of the Romans 9 passage. What effect might the larger context of the book of Romans have on our understanding of this excerpt?

 Can God make a rock so big that He cannot pick it up?

 Can God tell a lie?

(Numbers 23:19) “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

(2 Timothy 2:13) if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

(Hebrews 6:18) Thus by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be strongly encouraged.

If God is sovereign, does mankind have free will?

(Proverbs 21:1) The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

 (Isaiah 46:9-10) Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

(Proverbs 19:21) Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

(Proverbs 16:9) The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

(Lamentations 3:37) Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?

(Proverbs 16:33) The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

(Ephesians 1:11) In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

Distinction of causation vs. control

 Does God predestine people to heaven or hell?

 (Romans 8:29-30) For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

(Romans 9:10-24) When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[b] but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

(John 6:44) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

see verses on “Why do men perish…?”

Does God harden people’s hearts for His own purposes?

(Exodus 4:21) The LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

(Exodus 9:12) And the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

(Exodus 10:1) Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them,

(Exodus 10:20) But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go.

(Exodus 11:10) Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; yet the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go out of his land.

(Exodus 14:8) The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly.

(Exodus 9:7) Pharaoh sent, and behold, there was not even one of the livestock of Israel dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

(Exodus 8:15) But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.

(Exodus 8:32) But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go.

(1 Samuel 6:6) “Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When He had severely dealt with them, did they not allow the people to go, and they departed?

 

Scriptures and Thoughts about: Kingdom

Hebrew:

mamelakah and malekuh – closely related to “melech” meaning king.  Used to refer to kingdoms of the earth, the kingdom of Israel, God’s rule over all the earth, and a kingdom greater than Israel which is to come.

Occurs about 712 times in the Old Testament.

(1 Samuel 10:18) and he said to the sons of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought Israel up from Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the power of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’

(Deuteronomy 17:18) “Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.”

(Deuteronomy 3:21) I commanded Joshua at that time, saying, ‘Your eyes have seen all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings; so the Lord shall do to all the kingdoms into which you are about to cross.

(2 Samuel 7:12-16) When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”’”

 

Greek:

Basileia – the reign of a sovereign, or the domain one rules over.

Occurs about over 160 times in the New Testament, over 80 times it is in direct association with God, and 31 times with heaven.

Refers to the kingdom of Israel, to the present church, and to the final heavenly state.

(Matthew 24:7) For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.

(Matthew 13:24-30) “24Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25“But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. 26“But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27“The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28“And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ 29“But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

(Revelation 12:10) Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.”

What is the “kingdom of heaven?”

(Daniel 2:44) And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,

(Daniel 7:27) And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’

(Luke 1:31-33) And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
(Luke 13:28-29) In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.

(2 Peter 1:10-11) Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.

(Revelation 11:15) Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

(Matthew 25:34) Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

(Matthew 13:31-33, 44-50)
31He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; 32and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THEAIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.
33He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened…”

44“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, 46and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
47“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; 48and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. 49“So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, 50and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Why did the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus focus so heavily on the kingdom?  How should this effect our evangelism today?

(Matthew 3:1-2) Now in those days John the Baptist *came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

(Matthew 4:17) From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

(Matthew 4:23) Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.

(Mark 1:14-15) 14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

(Luke 4:42-44)When day came, Jesus left and went to a secluded place; and the crowds were searching for Him, and came to Him and tried to keep Him from going away from them.43 But He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 So He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

(Acts 28:30-31) And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.

(Colossians 1:13) 13For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

What does it mean to have a king?  How can modern people understand or illustrate this concept?

(Romans 12:1) Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

(1 Samuel 12:12-15) “When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ although the Lord your God was your king. Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen, whom you have asked for, and behold, the Lord has set a king over you. If you will fear the Lord and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the Lord, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God. If you will not listen to the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the command of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers.”

(Psalm 2:6-12)
6“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
8‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
9‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”
10Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11Worship the LORD with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
12Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

How can we properly honor God as king of our lives? 

(Matthew 6:33) But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

(Psalm 47:7-8) For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with a skillful psalm. God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.

(Matthew 18:3) and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 25:14-28) “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. “To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. “Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. “But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. “The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ “Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. ‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’

(Matthew 22:1-14) Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. “And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. “Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”‘ “But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. “But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. “Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. ‘Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
(Romans 14:13-18) 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.

How is the Christian view of the kingdom different from the Muslim idea of a caliphate?

(John 18:36-38) Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

(John 18:10-11) Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus. 11So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”

(Luke 17:20-21) Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

To what extent is the kingdom physical?

(Luke 4:17-21) And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
18“THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME,
BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR.
HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES,
AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND,
TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED,
19TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.”
20And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the
synagogue were fixed on Him. 21And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

(1 Corinthians 15:50) I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Everyone Can Do Something

You may have heard the saying, “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” This was certainly true of the Hebrews who had returned to Jerusalem from exile and were led by Nehemiah to rebuild the broken walls.

The entire third chapter of Nehemiah lists family after family and details which section of the wall each family worked on. When it became apparent that the people needed to be vigilant against military threats while they did the work, they divided up responsibilities and worked twice as hard.

Nehemiah says, “I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.  When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: ‘Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.’”

No individual family in Israel could have rebuilt the wall or protected the city in the meantime. It was only possible because so many individuals stepped up and did their part. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

Sometimes, like Elijah when he despaired before God that he had failed as a prophet, we feel like we have to do everything ourselves or face utter failure. The truth is that if we each do what we are individually capable of, God’s kingdom can thrive and grow.

At other times, we may feel that whatever we can personally contribute to the kingdom is so insignificant that it is essentially worthless. We must be reminded of what Jesus said about a poor widow who gave two small coins to the Lord: ‘Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.’”

The job of Elijah was not to singlehandedly restore God’s nation to righteousness all on his own. He simply had to be faithful and do his part, and God would raise up 7,000 others to help him. The job of the poor widow was not to climb the corporate ladder and give large sums of money each year to charity. She simply had to live her own life and use her own resources in a way that glorified God.

No single person who reads this article can fix the whole world or do all of the work in the kingdom. But each of us can live our lives in a way that makes the world a better place. We can use our lives as votes for justice, righteousness, and truth. We can treat others the way that we would want to be treated.

In the parable of the talents, the man with only one talent did not get in trouble because he only had one talent. He got in trouble because he did not use it.

Maybe you are good at talking to strangers and acquaintances about God, or conducting Bible studies. Maybe you have a gift for speaking the truth in love and holding your brothers and sisters accountable when they stray. Maybe you are good at preaching or teaching, or at encouraging others with smiles, kind words, food, cards, visits, or phone calls. Maybe you have a passion for acts of service and charity. Maybe you can give a lot of money.

Maybe some days you do not feel like you are good at any of those things. Sometimes we can be our own worst critics. But what God asks of us, and what He asked of the families mentioned in Nehemiah, and what He asked of Elijah, and of the poor widow with the two little coins, is that we just do what we can. If we all do that, great things will happen.

Jesus and Politics

Do you ever wonder what Jesus would say about politics if He were alive today? Would He endorse a certain candidate or political party? Would He take a stance on specific legislation, or at least on particular issues?

Jesus did not talk much about politics, His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). He actually had opportunities to gain great political power and turned them down (John 6:15). But there was one occasion on which Jesus was asked point blank about His stance on a specific political issue. In Mark 12, it is recorded that a group of Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?”

As it turns out, the poll-tax was a “hot button issue” in Jesus’ day. Historians tell us that it had been instituted in 5 A.D. when Jesus was a boy, and its institution was the cause of political riots. In fact, a man named Judas of Galilee had led a revolt in which He cleansed the temple and told fellow Jews not to pay the poll-tax. In a sense, the poll-tax had become a symbol of the oppression of God’s people by Caesar.

It is no coincidence that Jesus, having spent time preaching about a new kingdom (Matthew 4:17) and having recently cleansed the temple (Mark 11:15-19) was asked for a firm stance on this issue.

And the answer to this question was probably contested by the Pharisees (who opposed Roman rule) and the Herodians (who supported it), meaning that Jesus was being asked about a sensitive issue in front of two political parties who disagreed. To make the situation even more difficult, they ask Him in a way that demanded a straightforward answer: “Shall we pay or shall we not pay?” (Mark 12:15). There was no getting around it, Jesus might have to step on someone’s toes.

His answer was brilliant. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” In one sentence, He must have both pleased and offended both the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees would be offended that Jesus seemed to support the tax, but pleased that He esteemed God above Caeser. The Herodians would be pleased that Jesus seemed to support the tax, but offended that Jesus would suggest that an allegiance to God might undermine an allegiance to Caesar.

Essentially, Jesus revealed that the issues at stake were more far reaching and complicated than these religious and political leaders were making them out to be. Sure, the money was stamped by Caesar’s mint and had his image on them, so paying the tax was just. But the bigger issue of sorting out allegiances to God and government was and continues to be more nuanced than that.

Maybe if Jesus were around today, He would manage to do what He did in the gospel accounts. He might very well offend all of us, wherever we might stand on particular issues. He might very well defy all political categorization. He might teach us that among all of the complex issues of life, God must have first place (Matthew 6:33), the golden rule must govern our actions (Matthew 7:12), and that His word must be our guide above and beyond all parties and politicians (Mark 12:17, Psalm 119:105).

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The Renewed Mind

Ephesians 2:2 refers to Satan as “the prince of the power of the air.”

Indeed, spiritual decay is in the very air we breathe.  It can feel like there are a thousand forces working against our desire to know God and delight to do His will.  So many ideas have so permeated our cultural environment that it feels impossible to escape their effects.

  • Individualism separates us from our neighbors by teaching us that we should all just focus on ourselves instead of others.  Even in our own families and churches we are often so unaccustomed to opening up to one another that we cannot get the help that we need from each other.
  • Consumerism tells us that the way to happiness is through electronic gadgets, sophisticated machines, and expensive imported goods, and materialism provides us with an endless supply of such consumer goods to purchase or covet.
  • Electronic entertainment numbs our minds as it literally puts our brains in an alpha brain wave state, and hypersexualization teaches us that personal fulfillment is impossible without constant sexual gratification.
  • Industrialization means that many of us spend most of our time indoors, away from the beauty of God’s creation.  It also means that time is money, and thus we are always busy maintaining our standard of living, which makes finding time for God more difficult.

Even though I can identify these and other hindrances, correctly responding to them is another matter.  It is important to know that the Biblical answer to our dilemma is about more than changing our actions.  The Biblical solution is a mind renewed by God (Romans 12:2).

This world is a place of spiritual darkness, but it is where we are constrained to live out our days for the time being. Thus Jesus prayed for us: “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (Matthew 17:15-17)

By the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, “you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:4)

Our minds must be renewed by the sanctifying knowledge of God and Jesus Christ contained in God’s word so that it can be said of us: “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:13)

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