Respect for Authority

A very gifted teacher recently told me that she was thinking about leaving her profession because the lack of respect for teachers and other students was becoming very difficult.

Is the lack of respect for authority breaking down in our culture?

We acknowledge that we are citizens of differing nations. Yet despite that, the message of respecting those whom God has placed in authority over us is to be given serious thought.

Jesus lived his earthly life as a citizen of the Roman Empire. He stood before Pilate, who showed no respect for human life, but was concerned only about his political future. Although Pilate found no guilt in Jesus, he feared the Jews who wanted Jesus crucified. So to get the Jewish religious leaders off his back, he spoke these words, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (Matthew 27:24). He then had Jesus flogged and handed over to be crucified.

Did Jesus have to submit to such leadership? No, but He was carrying out the Father’s will to die for the sins of the world. His prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), showed he was submissive to his Father’s will.

When the high priest, Caiaphas, said to Jesus, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63), Jesus answered, “Yes, it is as you say. But I say to all of you: ÔIn the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven'” (Matthew 26:64).

While Jesus remained submissive to the will of the hierarchy, at the same time he made a strong statement of who he was and that he would come again.

Thousands of Christians died under the rule of Emperor Nero. They remained obedient to the political authorities but did not submit to godless leadership.

This has not always been the way Christians have acted. Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to that point in his ministry when he said enough is enough, and he became a part of the group who tried to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer did not do this without much prayer and thorough conviction that it was God’s will.

Obedience to the state has been a serious problem for the Church through the ages. The Church’s position has been sound when they taught that the law of God supersedes the law of the state. When the state goes contrary to God’s Word, the Church must be obedient first to the divine. An example would be if the government forbade the worship of Christ in our churches, we would obey God rather than man and accept the consequences if we are faithful to our Savior and Lord.

However, there are many examples from the other side of the picture as well. When our governmental leaders and others come to the Nation’s capital to hear the President’s speech, the Sargent at Arms, as the President is about to enter the room, shouts, Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States!” I am emotionally stirred as I watch these happenings on television. The chills go up and down my back and tears come to my eyes. I may not have voted for him, and I may not share his convictions on how to govern on a particular issue, but he is my president. The Word of God says, “The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted” (Romans 13:1-3).

But does this text have broader application? What about our homes? A bride asked me to speak on Ephesians 5:22-31. Even though I warned her that this text has brought forth much anger, she wanted the teaching voiced at her wedding. The text talks about order in the home.

a. Wives, submit to your husband as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the Church.

b. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for Her. In the same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

c. Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honor your father and mother which is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.

d. Fathers, do not exasperate your children. Instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Following the wedding ceremony, a lady told me that she did not appreciate my meditation. She believed that portion of the Bible had been for another day.

We need structure in the home, for if God’s plan is rejected, what will the plan be? These words have to be carefully understood that the love of Christ guides each one to treat the other in love.

These words also speak to the employer/employee relationship, so that a place where work ethic and fair wage can be discussed. A teacher should seek to understand her students’ problems and the background from which they come. And the parents should also be cooperative in explaining to the child that the teacher is to be obeyed.

This part of God’s Word should be looked at carefully as we live in a democracy that wants to be free of authority. We have freedom within limits. If that is not true, we will live in chaos.

Peter summarizes this text when he writes, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).

Don’t Worry

An elderly man was standing with his friend on a crowded bus when a young man asked him for the time. The old man refused to reply, and so the young man moved on. When the elderly man’s friend asked why he was so discourteous to the young man asking for the time, he replied, “Well, if I’d given him the time of day, he would want to know where I was going. Then we might talk about our interests, and he would invite himself to my house for dinner. If he did that, he would meet my lovely daughter. And if he met her, they would probably both fall in love. And I don’t want my daughter marrying someone who can’t even afford a watch.”

That guy appears to be a consummate worrier. Many of us must confess that we have our moments when we worry, even as children of God. We worry about things like finances, our kids, our health, looking older, our parents, and what others might think of us. We worry about “what if?” and draw out the worst possible scenario.

We know worry has its dangers and is not good for us. It’s not a disease, but it can cause diseases. It’s been connected to high blood pressure, migraines, heart troubles, and a host of stomach disorders. Someone once said, “Worry is an emotion that can never empty tomorrow of its problems, but instead empties today of its strength. It does not help us escape evil, but makes us ill prepared to cope with it, when and if it comes.” Another person said, “Worry doesn’t rob tomorrow of its sorrow; it saps the joy out of today.”

Max Lucado writes, “Worry is the burlap bag of burdens. Remember those burlap bags, how scratchy and itchy they are? It’s filled with Ôwhat ifs?’ and Ôhow will we cope?’ It’s cumbersome, chunky, scratchy, unattractive, hard to handle, irritating to carry, and impossible to give away because no one wants your worries.”

R. H. Mounts, a theologian, writes, “Worry is practical atheism and an affront to God.” I heard someone else say, “Worry is what we as Christians refer to as respectable sin.”

What is it that makes us such worriers? How does it happen? The world’s anxiety and worry seem to just easily rub off on us. We get blurred vision as Christians. Blurred vision keeps us from seeing the goodness and the faithfulness of God.

In today’s text, Jesus is seeking to unblur our vision with this lesson from his Sermon on the Mount. We have three things to keep in mind as we consider these words of Jesus.

First, we need to remember who is being addressed here. Jesus is speaking to his disciples. They are apprentices of Jesus, learning how to live in this kingdom that he has brought into the world.

Second, we must keep in mind what it was like to live in their day. It would be like living in the third world today Ð hand-to-mouth living, no security, no safety net, no Medicare, no Medicaid. Some estimate the average citizen in Palestine paid about 40% of their income in taxes. It was a hard life. And yet Jesus said to these people, as he says to us today through his Word, “Don’t worry.”

Third, we also have to keep in mind what precedes these words, because Jesus begins by saying, “Therefore . . .” He’s been talking about making a choice between serving money (taking care of yourself) and serving God. God is looking for whole-hearted devotion with one’s life in his kingdom. The disciples must have been scratching their heads and wondering who was going to take care of them. In this passage Jesus seems to be promising that God will take care of them.

Notice that he emphasizes “Don’t worry” three times in this little section, and he gives several reasons not to worry.

¥ God created us. He gave us life and a body, surely he will sustain us.

¥ Worry is senseless. “Look at the birds of the air,” he says.” The birds don’t fret and worry, and yet God cares for them. Your value in God’s sight is so much greater than any bird, surely he’ll take care of you.

¥ Worry is useless. Fretting about things is futile, for it cannot add a single hour to your life.

¥ Worry is faithless. Pagans worry because they cannot trust their gods. To not trust God or worry about whether God is going to take care of you is like a slap in the face of God.

¥ Worry denies your family ties. “Your heavenly Father knows you need these things.” At the heart of the universe is not only ultimate power, but the ultimate love of a Father who loves you.

¥ Worry is impractical. Don’t worry about tomorrow, but take each day at a time. God has divided life into bite-size chunks called days. Trying to chew more than one day at a time does nothing but choke us. Trust God with these twenty-four hours. God is already into tomorrow, waiting.

Instead of worrying, Jesus points us to an alternative. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Jesus is describing a way of life, with a priority of living for God, his kingdom, and his righteousness, in obedience to him.

A promise is attached: “. . . and all these things will be added to you.” We must commit ourselves to God; he will take care of us. Troubles will come, but God will supply the resources for each day.

Corrie Ten Boom told the story about a friend who was persecuted for her faith in Christ. Corrie was terrified and said to her father, “I will never be able to stand up under persecution. I couldn’t take it.” Her father said, “Oh, yes, you can. If God allows you to be persecuted for his sake, you’ll be strong enough. Do you remember when you were a little girl, and I took you to the train station? I waited until just before we boarded the train, and then I handed you the ticket. Although I had it in my pocket all along, I gave it to you only when you needed it. God will give you the resources you need when the time comes.”

Indeed God is faithful to take care of his children. When we commit ourselves to him, he will commit himself to us. Trust him.

Jesus led by example, putting God’s agenda first, trusting in the Father a day at a time, not moving ahead, but celebrating the goodness of God in the here and now. Author and commentator N. T. Wright says, “It sounds like a recipe for happiness. Jesus is calling his followers Ð you and me Ð to do the same as we put our trust in God and commit ourselves to this wonderful God who longs for each of us to trust him, love him, and serve him. Soon you will discover for yourself that he commits himself to you.”

At the heart of the Sermon on the Mount is an invitation from Jesus that few people ever try to take up. Come and share in my happiness, Jesus says. Don’t get caught up in worry. Give yourself wholeheartedly to God’s cause. Trust him; he will care for you.

There’s an old hymn that’s always been my favorite. The last verse goes like this:

“This is my Father’s world; Oh, let me not forget

That, though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world; Why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is king, let the heavens ring; God reigns, let the earth be glad!”

Don’t worry! Trust your Father who loves you and gave his only Son that you might be his child.

God’s People

Since the fall into sin, this world has lived in rebellion to its Creator. The media reminds us daily of how spiritually bankrupt our world is. But today’s text is a fresh breeze telling what humans can become when Jesus Christ has changed their lives.

God is building His Kingdom. Peter refers to this Kingdom as a spiritual house. This is the one true Christian Church. We are described as living stones and Christ is the Chief Cornerstone.

Who are these living stones? They are Christians who trust Christ as Savior and Lord. Peter says, “Once you were not a people, but now you the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Our lives have been changed. As God’s people, we enjoy many blessings. Our text mentions three of them.

1. We are a royal priesthood.

In the Old Testament, the priest was the mediator between God and man. Access to the Father came only through the priest. When Christ came, he became our priest and our only mediator between God and man. Paul writes, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

In Christ, we can come to Him at any time. This is the privilege of bringing our problems, guilt, and concerns to him in the quietness of our own being. We often appreciate sharing our spiritual concerns with our friends, and they can give us great help. However, the final voice is Christ. This is the privilege the people of God have. It is our quiet time when we talk it over with our Lord.

As believers in Christ Jesus, we are molded into a body, which is called the priesthood of all believers. God is not some far-away power. He is our Father receiving us through Christ, our high priest, who has opened the way to the Father.

2. We are a people called out of darkness into the light.

Some of the most brilliant people walk in darkness. For example, the surgeon can open our bodies to correct what is wrong, and we return to normal living in a short period of time. When it comes to the anatomy of our bodies, that surgeon walks in the light. But in the case when the operation is not a success and the patient dies, many of these gifted people have no answers about eternity. They walk in complete darkness.

These are spiritual matters in which the people of God walk in the light.

Peter writes in his book, “For you know that it is not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (I Peter :18).

We are people who need to be redeemed. Those who walk in darkness do not believe that we need redemption. They believe that we are good people and we can care for ourselves. If there is a life after death, we will earn a place in the eternal mansions by our own good works.

This is an example of living in darkness. God’s people know their sinful state. However, they also know that God has prepared a way to heaven through faith in Christ. Looking at this world through Christ gives us a different look.

3. As people of God, we have experienced God’s mercy (grace).

When people who are not Christians think of religion, they equate it with moral law. They also believe that people can change their way of living. The people who have become new people in Christ know the need of God’s Law. It reveals God’s way that we should live and also convicts us of our sin and our need for a Savior.

This is an important message, but it is not the center of the Christian faith. Out of love for us, Christ forgives us. This is grace. I have not earned forgiveness, but God gives it to me. I am a sinner and cannot change my life. However, God gives me grace to change it or God changes me. Grace builds a personal relationship with God. Because I am a part of the priesthood of all believers, I walk with him and talk with him.

Possessing these characteristics, Christ commissions me to go into the world and tell this story of the Gospel Ð of how he has changed me and wants to change them too. He makes us lights in this world of darkness. In one sense of the word, we are strangers and aliens in this world, for we are the people of God.

Living Stones in a Spiritual House

The Church has a very important place in the life of a Christian. So it was with the early Church. In Matthew we read, “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ÔWho do people say that the Son of Man is?’

“They replied, ÔSome say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’

“ÔBut what about you?’ he asked. ÔWho do you say I am?’

“Simon Peter answered, ÔYou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’

“Jesus replied, ÔBlessed are you, Simon the Son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it'” (Matthew 6:13-18).

While Peter had the right answer, he did not fully understand what he had said. The days following were a revelation to Peter as he saw Jesus crucified, buried, and raised from the dead.

Then came Pentecost, which was fifty days after Easter. Many people were in Jerusalem celebrating a Jewish festival. Suddenly the Holy Spirit appeared in a most unique way. The visitors in Jerusalem were perplexed, for they heard the disciples speaking the Gospel in their own language. They asked, “How is it that each of us hears (the apostles) speaking in his own language?” (Acts 2:6).

Some in the crowd made fun of the disciples and said, “They had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up and preached his famous Pentecost sermon, which is recorded in Acts 2. He presented Jesus to the crowd telling how he was crucified, buried and on the third day raised from the dead. It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.

When the people heard this, they were under a great conviction of sin. They asked Peter, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Those who accepted this message and were baptized numbered about three thousand. This is often referred to as the birthday of the Christian Church.

Then, when all settled down, the disciples were obedient to the Lord’s Word and became witnesses of Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, and to the far parts of the world. Peter was among those witnesses. He went out and planted new churches in all parts of his little world. It was about A.D. 64 when Peter wrote his first letter to these churches.

Today’s text is taken from 1 Peter 2:4-8, where Peter is drawing a verbal picture of the Church. Christ is building his Church, which Peter calls a “spiritual house.” Christ is the cornerstone, and believers in Christ are described as living stones being built into Christ’s spiritual house. Peter gives the believers, these living stones, a great promise when he says, “. . . and the ones who trust in him will never be put to shame.”

Peter continues, “Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,” Jesus is an offense and “a stone that causes men to stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.”

People have responded to Jesus in these same ways throughout the ages:

Believers Ð Using Peter’s picture, they are living rocks in Christ’s spiritual house.

Indifferent Ð The most common response today, they have no interest in being a stone in Christ’s spiritual house, which is the Church.

Unbelievers Ð Jesus is an offense and among them. They would be anxious to destroy the Christian faith, because it is divisive to society (Christians – Moslems is an example) or a threat to other ways of life (Christianity vs. Communism or Nazism).

Yet Christ continues to build his spiritual house. Today in this world, many people will become Christians (stones built into this spiritual house). The Word of God is being taught, the Holy Spirit is at work through this Word, and people are responding positively. It is happening where we least expect it. Let me illustrate.

Some years ago my wife and I were in Jerusalem. An acquaintance, who once lived in our community, was now living in Jerusalem. When this man heard we were visiting Jerusalem, he invited us to attend the English speaking synagogue with him. We accepted his invitation and attended their worship service. We were introduced to the congregation and invited to be their guests after the service in the garden where they had cheese and wine. We were enjoying their fellowship when a young Jewish lady, who once lived in Iowa, came to me and asked, “Are you one of His?”

When we told this lady that we were believers in Christ as Savior and Lord, she said, “I too am one of His.” That week she was going to meet with the chief rabbi to learn if she could continue to be a member of the synagogue even though she had become a Christian.

This lady, a converted Jew, was one of Christ’s stones having become a part of the spiritual house (the Church). The work goes on.

These stones are people of all ages. Sometimes we wonder if the youth of our day are serious about their relationship with the Lord. We were reminded of how serious they can be when my wife and I received a card from our granddaughter. She is spending the summer in Spain teaching children of the naval people stationed there. In the card she writes, “I am having a wonderful time. Every day I wake up and look forward to shining Christ’s light to these children.” She is one of the stones in Christ’s spiritual house. How encouraging!

Another lady in her early 60s is facing a serious examination to learn if her cancer is growing. Although she wants to live with her family on this earth for a few more years, she is one of those living stones in Christ’s House (the Church). She claims Christ’s promise that she “will never be put to shame.” Her eternal destiny is heaven.

St. Peter wants us to know that Christians are a part of the community of believers. C. B. Cranfield writes, “The free-lance Christian, who would desire to be a Christian but is too superior to belong to the visible church upon earth, is a contradiction in terms. The individual finds his true place when he/she is built into the edifice of the Church.”