A Sermon for the President--and for the People of God

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(David--with thanks to Douglas Wilson for his suggestion that other pastors preach to President Obama as he recently did.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009
2 Timothy 2:8, 9

Last Sunday morning while we were gathered in worship a gunman entered a Lutheran (ELCA) church in Wichita, Kansas and shot to death the nation’s most famous abortionist, a man whose specialty had long been the dismemberment of late-second and third trimester infants, while he was serving as an usher.

A notorious murderer met what is certain to become a notorious end. By the goodness of God the witness of the Church was not entirely silenced in Dr. Tiller’s life. He had been excommunicated by his previous congregation, a church of the Missouri Synod Lutheran denomination. And so the judgment of God had been declared; not every watchman was silent, not every shepherd proved a hireling.

But the point was reached where a man despaired of change through government and took matters into his own hand. I do not view the actions of Dr. Tiller’s killer as defensible, but not for many of the easy and often self-serving reasons advanced with alarm and indignation even by many Christians in recent days.

    • Violence is not always wrong. Killing is not always forbidden. Opposition to abortion does not obligate us to oppose all forms of killing. In saying this I make a biblically defensible statement. God has given the power of the sword to the state so that it may judge and execute judgment. This is true internationally and locally. Condemnation of the vile sin of abortion, the murder of an infant, an innocent, in its mother’s womb is not the same as the death penalty, properly applied.

  • Nor do I believe that Dr. Tiller’s killer necessarily acted inappropriately as self-appointed judge, jury and executioner. Like the couple who boldly went into the tent before the congregation at Peor and were immediately killed by Phinehas, Dr. Tiller’s bold practice of the indefensible, his brazen boasting of his practice rendered judge and jury superfluous. He was self-accused and self-convicted.

But what Dr. Tiller’s killer did which Phinehas did not do was to kill against the will of the nation’s civil authority. It was an act of rebellion posing as an act of justice. The killer was an assassin who lacked the courage to attack the root of abortion, our national leaders, and so attacked the branch. His was not an act of saving babies or of executing justice. Other men will continue Dr. Tiller’s practice. A bucket of water taken from the sea will not create a hole in the ocean. Others will fill where Dr. Tiller left off. Abortion will proceed because, and this is vital to say, abortion is blessed by the law of the land. The logic of Dr. Tiller’s killer is the logic of John Brown, of Absalom, of Ehud.

If there should come a time when shots are legitimately fired to prevent the murder of babies in America, it will be—as in the American Revolution and the Civil War—when those who shoot do so under civil authority, not as self-appointed makers of a new national order through acts of personal rebellion and assassination.

You may ask, “What civil authority?” Where is legitimate authority found to oppose the king or president appointed by God? The answer is, God raises lesser authorities to confront higher authorities. David had legitimate authority in the kingdom of Israel when he stood against Saul. His actions were not illegitimate because his status was not self-appointed. The same is true of Jeroboam in his rebellion against Rehoboam. His was a legitimate under-authority in the nation.

The Reformers relied on the protection of princes against kings and kings against popes. They did not take up arms on their own initiative as anarchists and agents provocateur pressing for their own conceptions of right and wrong. They relied on junior officers, secondary rulers, lesser-magistrates to advance the cause of righteousness against greater rulers and kings.

I have said that it is wrong to take up arms hoping to provoke war so that righteousness may prevail without legitimate authority calling us to such action. But let me add equally that participation in the wicked deeds of evil rulers—or even silent acceptance of such deeds—because our rulers, after all, are established by God is cowardly wickedness. Calvin writes of the Hebrew midwives who disobeyed Pharaoah’s order to kill the male children of the Israelites:

Although tyrants do not easily allow their commands to be despised, and death was before their eyes, they still keep their hands pure from evil. Thus, sustained and supported by reverential fear of God, they boldly despised the command and the threatenings of Pharaoh. As a result those, who because of fear of man, refuse to take the right course, betray by their cowardice an inexcusable contempt of God, by preferring the favor of men over His solemn commands. But this doctrine extends still more widely; for many would be more than preposterously wise, that, under pretext of due submission, they obey the wicked will of kings in opposition to justice and right, becoming in some cases the agents of greed and rapacity, in others of cruelty; yes, to gratify the passing kings of earth, they take no account of God; and thus, worst of all, they purposely oppose pure religion with fire and sword. It only makes their impudence more detestable, that while they knowingly and willingly crucify Christ in his members, they plead the frivolous excuse, that they are obeying their princes according to the word of God; as if he, in ordaining princes, had resigned his rights to them; and as if every earthly power, which exalts itself against heaven, should not instead most justly be made to give way.

So the question remains: in an increasingly God-hating day, a day of rampant insolence toward God, His commands and His Word, what is a righteous man to do? How may he respond? What avenue is open to him? How may righteousness be advanced if not by sword or gun?

And the answer is, we must do precisely as our passage would have us....

2 Timothy 2:8, 9
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!

Let me point out the implications for this evil day of our passage.

This passage, I said two weeks ago, is a wonderful mixture of the earthy and sublime, the human and the Divine. In verse 8 Paul urges Timothy—and through Timothy, us—to remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, seed of David.

Three juxtaposed contrasting pairs are found in these three simple statements.

First we have those implicit in the name Jesus Christ. Jesus, a simple name, the Aramaic form of Joshua a name rooted in the Hebrew words Yahweh (or Jehovah) is Salvation. Mixed with this common name given countless Jewish boys is Christ, Xristou, the anointed one. Jesus, Messiah. Man, God.

Second the statement, risen from the dead, contains a further mixture of ignominy and glory. Death requires humanity. Rising from death demands divinity.

Third, in seed of David, Jesus’ human lineage is stressed. Seed is human. God is not of any man’s seed. Jesus was of the seed of David. Yet seed of David is glory too. David was king of kings and lord of lords prior to Jesus. Jesus sits on the great throne of David. Yet David calls him “Lord.” He comes after David, He is the seed of David, yet He is also David’s Lord.

Thus we find in verse 8 the first of two legs the Christian must stand on in evil times. Jesus is King. Jesus is Lord. He is King of Kings. He is Lord of Lords. He is Jesus, risen from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus was and is a revelation of Christ’s ultimate authority. It demonstrates to an onlooking world that Jesus is God. He rose from the dead. The kings of earth did their utmost and still He arose. I will follow a man who can rise from the dead. You will too, if you have any sense. He is obviously, manifestly superior to the greatest human authority. Place Jesus, holes in hands and feet, wound in His side, against Caesar on his gilded throne and only a fool follows Caesar.

But not only is Jesus revealed to be God by His resurrection, He is declared God in power by the Holy Spirit. Paul writes that Jesus,

… was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead…

The resurrection is not just revelation, but declaration. Revelation is left to us to understand and heed. Declaration comes to us directly. Revelation is God speaking through human voices, revealing His Word through human messengers. Declaration is God speaking directly, declaration is a trumpet blast from heaven.

God has declared Jesus King of kings and Lord of lords by the resurrection. There is nothing revelatory about it, no ambiguity, no messenger, no interpretive room for error. It is declaration, clear and simple—a piercing bugle note, not the rustling of leaves from which we interpret the blowing of the wind.

Jesus is God. He is King. He is Lord. This has earthly implications which we must understand and declare. Jesus is Lord. ALL earthly authority belongs to Him.

This means that every form of earthly authority is subject to the Son. He is the King of earth. It is not merely a future authority. It is not the authority of a fugitive king or a future kingdom. Jesus began His earthly ministry with this declaration, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Lord Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and He must reign until He has made His enemies a footstool. Of the increase of His government there will be no end. He has ascended; He has given gifts to men. His kingdom has come, His kingdom is coming, and His kingdom will come.

If Christ were not King of the world today, we would not need to suffer as Christians. But our declaration of a present kingdom, a present Lord, a present authority is what necessitates our suffering.

The kingdom and authority of Christ right here, right now is the reason the Gospel is so often a threat to earthly rulers. Earthly rulers live for today, not for the tomorrow of life beyond the grave. If our declaration of Christ’s authority is only future, it contains not the slightest threat to earthly kings who care nothing for the future. But Jesus is King right now. And every government and ruler which stands in opposition to the authority of Jesus Christ is a government and ruler which stands under the judgment of God now, not merely in eternity.

Yes, God will judge in eternity. But God causes kings and emperors to fall today. Herod is eaten by worms. Caesar is assassinated. Jerusalem is destroyed. Rome falls. God judges kings and kingdoms in human history as well as in heaven.

The declaration of this truth is the God-given response to our president and our nation in this wicked day.

President Obama stands as our head. He is our representative not just under our federal form of government, not just in earthly terms, but in heavenly terms, before  the throne of God. He stands before God for all the righteousness and wickedness of our nation. He either opposes the sins of the nation and reaps blessing from God, or stands in affirmation of them and reaps their judgment.

And in this regard I call on us to declare and President Obama to hear the Word of God.

    • President Obama, you have promised not to make abortion a litmus test in nominating judges to the Supreme Court. The King of kings, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, however, has declared the murder of innocents a high sin, a sin so vile that even after Manasseh repents of his butchery of the innocent and is followed by the righteous Josiah, God will not turn back his judgment on Judah. President Obama, you are not the first American political leader to embrace this slaughter. Others have gone before you in this. Others bear equal or greater responsibility. But you are president today. And you are the leader of a nation which is at war against God in this, President Obama. We have rejected the Word of God and the Lordship of Christ in this matter. You must oppose abortion in obedience to the King of kings for whom the murder of innocents is indeed a litmus test of righteous authority.

  • President Obama, in your declaration of June 1, 2009, “NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists. IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third. BARACK OBAMA.”

    President Obama, you speak of “the year of our Lord,” yet you honor what God despises, declaring a matter of pride that which is an abomination to God. In declaring good what God has judged wicked you are in rebellion against the Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.

  • President Obama, in your speech in Cairo last Thursday you said, “All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer."

    In that same speech you also said, “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

    But I say to you as a minister of the Gospel you claim to believe: Scripture tells us God hates all false gods and that Jesus is earth’s sole Lord of lords. When Moses, Elijah and Jesus stood together on the mount of transfiguration and Peter suggested building tabernacles for all three, God thundered from heaven the unique authority of His Son. You proclaimed yourself a Christian in your speech. In so saying you claimed to accept the authority of Jesus Christ. Surely any Christian knows that Scripture teaches the unique authority of Jesus.

    You, Barack Obama, by using your office to defend the impostor Mohammed, and to suggest that Jesus and Moses are equals, usurp the authority of Christ and are in rebellion against King Jesus.

The second leg we stand on as Christians in evil times is this, and again, I speak God’s Word to you who are here this morning and to President Obama.

President Obama, if you were to hear these words, it may occur to you that I am a pastor of little note ministering in a not-overly-large church in a not-overly-significant city. And from this pulpit I address you. Preposterous, you might think, delusional. Others may think the same, perhaps even some here this morning.

But though you wield a sword ordained by God, President Obama, and though by that sword you rule without fear of insignificant pastors such as myself, never even knowing I exist, the disparity between our powers is much to my advantage.

It is true that you rule over me and all Americans with real power. Indeed, the whole world is affected by your rule. You place a supporter of abortion on the Supreme Court and millions of children continue to die. You declare war and the world is at war. You decree June a month of pride for an abomination and homosexuals rejoice and I cannot rescind your decree. I am a pea, a gnat, a worm before you in every earthly sense.

But—and this I stand on, this all Christians stand on in every evil day—though a worm in earthly terms, I wield a mighty sword. You, President Obama, bear the sword of the state, the earthly power of governance and rule. I wield the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

I understand that this is a bold claim—so bold, it may seem preposterous. Yet so it stands. Wielding the sword of state carries responsibility. You will give an account to the Lord of lords and King of kings for your deeds as president. I too bear responsibility. I will give an account for the wielding of the sword ordained to me.

It would be blasphemy to bear this sword for personal benefit or as a partisan of a political party. The captain of the Lord’s army is only for the Lord. The Sword of the Spirit is wielded only on behalf of the King of kings. And I will be judged more severely than those who bear the sword of government if I misuse this power by allying it to a particular political party.

So I speak—from a church few have heard of in a city of little note—to you, President Obama. I am not bound with the chains Paul refers to in verse 8 of our passage. I do not wear steel cuffs. I am not shackled to a dungeon cell. The chains I and other American pastors suffer from are soft, velvet rather than steel: they’re chains of human insignificance and small-town unimportance—and often the self-imposed chains of affluence, comfort and ease.

But chained by steel as Paul was, chained by insignificance as I am, the Word of God is not bound. This is our confidence. Though we are nothing, the Word of God is the power of God. And we wield the Word: not the gun of the assassin but the unbound Word of God.

This Word will not return void. Jesus is King. Jesus is Lord. Jesus’ Kingdom is here. It will come. It has come. It is.

I call on you, President Obama, to do today what you must certainly do one day. Repent in accord with the Word of God. Turn in obedience to your King. Bow before Him. Kiss the Son and seek His mercy. His promises of forgiveness and salvation are for you as much as for those you rule over.

It may be that the bloodshed of America’s butchered children cries so loud to God that our nation must suffer His wrath as Judah suffered for the bloodshed of Manasseh despite his repentance. We don’t know His mind. But what we do know is that though temporal judgment may have been decreed, it is not too late to seek His forgiveness for the salvation of our personal souls in eternity and, perhaps, so that He may remember mercy even as He causes us to suffer his earthly wrath.

The Word of God is not bound. Better the Sword of the Spirit than all the divisions of America’s armies. We have a King. We have a weapon. We have the promises of God’s Word. Do we have the faith to follow?