The American presidential election cycle is in full swing. Many American Christians are rightly getting involved in the democratic process. The Bible says that it is not only important that we be good citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, but also good citizens of the nations in which we are members.
So, in a democracy like ours we are instructed by God to be involved in the political process, to choose and then obey our earthly leaders. There is nothing wrong with our faith or religion impacting our politics, and, in fact, there is no way our politics will not be impacted by our faith or religion. You cannot separate the two, no matter how much you think you can or how much others would like you to.
That being said, we should not put our faith in earthly leaders, and we should not believe any earthly ruler can “save” us from our predicaments or our circumstances. Only God can be that kind of leader.
You see, human leaders, no matter how humble, have a tendency to think of themselves as those that can “save” people or organizations or even whole nations. Have you ever heard a politician say that he couldn’t fix the economy, or bring peace to a certain part of the world, or end this problem or that? He would never be elected.
In response to this inclination, Jesus says to His followers, “It should not be this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt 20:26-28 NASB).
Even though I am constantly thinking and writing on the topic of leadership, the words of Jesus haunt me, “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Matt 23:10 NASB). In issuing this command Jesus was saying that a new order was being established; a new heavenly Kingdom on earth was being inaugurated; and, that we would have a new leader in Christ Himself.
More than a thousand years before Jesus, the Israelites asked the prophet Samuel for a human king to be their leader. When Samuel talked to God about this, God sorrowfully said, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7 NASB).
When we expect human leaders to save us and to provide for us and to protect us, we reject God. Fundamentally, it is a form of idolatry. And let’s not mince words, billions upon billions of people are looking for human leaders to save them and to provide for them and to care for them and to protect them. What saddens God is that He has promised that He would care for, protect, and ultimately save us if we would be willing to put our whole trust in Him. Yet, humans, yes Christians too, are still looking for earthly leaders to do what only God wants to and can do for His people.
With the advent and reign of Jesus the Messiah, we see that God has done something as never before in providing us with a King, a real Human-God-King to lead us, to save us, to protect us, to care for us. And if we believe the Bible is the Word of God, then in this counter-cultural Kingdom of God where Christians live, there can only be one leader and that is Jesus the Christ.
As we look at this morning’s Scripture text we will be reminded of three truths that can guide and empower us to come under the Sovereignty of God and the Kingship of Christ.
Scripture Text – 1 Samuel 8:1-22 (NIV)
8:1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattleand donkeys he will take for his own use. 17He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. ”
19But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it the Lord, before. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
Fix Your Eyes On God, Not On Man
The sad reality of the Israelites desire to have an earthly king is that they were no longer looking to God for leadership and care, but to their pagan neighbors. Though God had miraculously provided for and protected the Israelites in the past, they continually took their eyes off of God and placed them on man. They were looking at the world and what it has to offer instead of God and what He can provide.
The Israelites aren’t just an abstract, historical example of what went wrong with their nation; their story also points to what’s ultimately wrong with us. It is almost a daily occurrence; little children comparing themselves to other kids, desiring the toys they don’t have; begging their parents for the latest video game or doll or Lego set because little Bobby or Suzy has it. But is it just children? How many of us have had to have that cool new iPhone or iPad or Droid, or whatever fancy electronic gadget? Adults constantly look at what other people wear, where they live, the kind of cars they drive, and what kind of hairdo they’re sporting.
Our entire world system is designed to keep our eyes fixed on everything but God. When we leave this church we will be inundated by a demonic system that is continually enticing us away from keeping our eyes on God. The myriad billboards, media, and internet advertisements will remind us that we don’t have what we want.
This looking at the world for how we should live is not confined to individuals, but to nation-states as well. In our materialistically focused world other nations often compare themselves to each other. In America we compare our military might or economic prosperity based on the statistics of surrounding nations. And if someone else gets more tanks, then we need more tanks. If they have free health care, then we should have free health care.
When we look to a human leaders to “save” us or provide for us or protect us we will surely be let down. Even after being warned of the oppression and taxation and forced military service that would be laid upon the Israelites, they still cried out for a human leader, because they failed to remember the God who would never oppress them, but who miraculously provided for, cared for, and ultimately saved and protected them.
The writer to the Hebrews says that we should fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (12:2). Fixing our eyes means attaching or fastening our vision to Christ, putting blinders on our eyes to keep us from looking somewhere else for salvation, protection, provision, and care.
Be The Priests God Called You To Be
Secondly, the Israelites no longer wanted to be responsible for themselves. They wanted someone else to do their bidding. They wanted a human king to fight their battles, and by asking for a human leader, they also rejected their high calling.
You see, when the Israelites left their bondage in Egypt, they were made into a special nation—a nation like no other nation – a holy nation of priests, set apart to God. They were chosen and elected to be an example to the whole world. “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” (Exodus 19:5-6).
For 250 years the Israelites had a theocratic system in place with judges and priests which made them radically different than the surrounding nations. They were to be a light unto the rest of the world so that all could come to know the God of the Israelites, and come under the care and benevolent rule of the Only True God. Instead, the Israelites looked to the world for how they should live, when the world was to look to the Israelites and desire to follow God.
Interestingly, the global mission that the Israelites were originally called to, is now the mission of the New Covenant people, the Church—you and me. That is why St. Peter repeats the call to be a Kingdom of Priests, set apart to do God’s Work: “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Have No King But Jesus
Throughout the Old Testament God spoke of being present to His people as provider, deliverer, and redeemer if they would fulfill His covenant with them. And because God knew they would not, He had in mind to send a king, a king like David, but so much more. All of the prophets speak of this unique redeemer, a human king, who would rule the world. It is Isaiah who distinguishes this king from every earthly king who ruled on earth.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (9:6-7).
This scripture was fulfilled in Jesus the King. And He has established His Kingdom that will last forever. So the call to Christians is the same as it was to Israelites: to have no other god, but God; to have no other leader, but Christ; to have no other King, but Jesus.
Interestingly, when Jesus was suffering His passion and Pontius Pilate presented Jesus as the King of Jews. The “leaders” of the Israelites protested saying, “We have no king but Caesar.” Amazingly, what happened in 1 Samuel occurs again one thousand years later. The stubborn Israelites cannot follow God as their King.
In those days, the Roman ruler was considered a deity. He was called Kurios or Lord. All of the citizens of the empire were to recognize and call the Caesar “Lord.” But after the resurrection, when the disciples began to recognize the true identity of Jesus, they took up this cry, Isous est Kurios, Jesus is LORD! Christ is the King of kings, and the LORD of lords!
As the climate against Christian faith is increasingly oppressive even in this country, it will become even more important to have no leader but Christ, and to cry out to the world that Isous est Kurios, Jesus is LORD!
Don’t Follow Me, Follow Christ!
Now, I understand that some of you might be thinking, “Wait a second pastor. We still need human leaders. We still need models for us to emulate. Even Paul said that we should follow him as he followed Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
I do understand that there is a need for some form of human leadership. And I do see that leadership is one of the most talked and written about topics when it comes to politics, business, sports, and even ecclesiology. But I am afraid that we have put too much trust in human leaders, no matter how well-intentioned, and their capacity to effect lasting change.
And yes, Paul did say to follow him as he followed Christ. But be careful here, because Paul is not really saying to follow him, as a person, but his example. We certainly need Spirit-filled, holy models to not only teach us what is right, but show us, as well, what right looks like. But we are not called to put our faith in man, but in Christ alone.
In as much as Paul’s life emulated and proclaimed what Christ already did and said, Paul was simply an effective “servant.” Paul never referred to himself as a leader. He did say he was a slave of Christ, a servant of Christ, a minister of Christ, and an ambassador for Christ, but never a leader of or for Christ. Ultimately if we are to emulate Paul, then we will make Christ our King, the Lord of our Lives, just like he did.
And, by the way, don’t follow me either. Follow Christ!
Some of you have never made Jesus the Lord and King of your life. And if that is true, then either you or someone other human is ruling your life. Some of us have taken Jesus as fire insurance against an undesirable after-life, but not as the King of our lives. So, we are not truly living as disciples of Christ, and we are not enjoying the benefits of being citizens in the Kingdom of God and all that entails.
I want to tell you, today, this very moment, that we are all called to a decision, and that decision is to die to ourselves and put our whole trust in God, to place our faith in one King and in one King alone: Jesus the Christ. This is my prayer for you, as well as for myself, that Jesus would reign and rule over us, and thereby we would be blessed to be a blessing to the whole world.
© Paul Dordal, 2012