15th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 18) LSB #’s 965, 966, 579
Text – Romans 13:2
Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, & those who resist will incur judgment.
WHAT GOD HAS APPOINTED
In a couple weeks we’ll begin a series of sermons on stewardship. In basic terms, our stewardship is every single decision we make once becoming a child of God. To push the envelope to the extreme, for the moment, focus your heart & mind on this question alone, “What do you have that you can offer to God?” PAUSE
Does that question bring hope & joy into your heart & mind? Did the question bring fear? Has it ever before occurred to you that truthfully there is absolutely nothing you or I can offer to God? We do not own or possess anything of value or worth.
Yahweh’s greatest desire is for us to offer our lives to Him, but not because they have value or worth. It is only in Christ that our lives are valuable to God. You do not possess a single thing that you can offer to our Lord. I do not possess a single thing that I can offer to our Savior. We can only surrender to Him as slaves to a master. Yahweh owns all of creation.
Given that framework, the text from Romans 13 is a terrible Word from God – especially as we see the dysfunction & corruption in our government: “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, & those who resist will incur judgment.” (13:2 ESV)
Approaching this Word from God can be done only in humility. We must understand the true value of our lives – that we are nothing & we possess nothing apart from Jesus. As David wrote Psalm 39, he appeals to God for a clear understanding of proper humility: “O Lord, make me know my end & what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (39:4 ESV)
Growing older, we begin to feel life’s fadeaway – the loss of youthful vigor & optimism,
the loss of opportunities & accomplishment. David wants to encourage that recognition of our frailty so that we see all aspects of our lives from a humbling, ground level perspective. All our days on this earth are fleeting & that perspective is needed in order to accept & to understand the sermon text from Romans 13:
“Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, & those who resist will incur judgment.” (13:2 ESV) Sinful human beings cannot help but struggle when confronted with such a black & white statement of God’s will. Verse one makes it very clear, “…there is no authority except from God, & those that exist have been instituted by God.”
Therefore, if we resist the authorities, then we are resisting God. Paul does not qualify that in any way, such as, it’s okay to resist the authorities when they’re corrupt or incompetent. He does not say, we should obey the authorities when they make wise & good decisions. He simply says, “…whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed.”
That’s difficult enough to follow in our nation where to some extent we the people get to choose our leaders. Imagine living in countries like North Korea & Iran. Imagine being a slave on a plantation prior to our Civil War. What if you were a slave right now in the sex trafficking industry across our nation & around the world?
Imagine being a child in the womb of a mother who does not want you to be born. You & I were born into this evil world, & we ourselves have been corrupted by evil in every way. For us to rail against the authorities is rather arrogant wouldn’t you say? Fighting fire with fire is the motto of the anarchist. Fighting evil with evil accomplishes nothing good.
You might remember from last Sunday, how St. Paul ended Romans chapter 12, “To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (12:20-21 ESV) How appropriate then, that today’s reading begins, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities...” (Romans 13:1 ESV) It’s as if Paul is acknowledging that authorities will be evil, long before this statement became popular: “Power tends to corrupt, & absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Nero was emperor of the Roman empire when Paul wrote the letter to the church at Rome. Nero has been described as the epitome of evil, yet Paul insisted that all authorities have been appointed by God. Jesus Himself, when brought to Pontius Pilate, did not resist that earthly authority. Jesus even acknowledged that God had placed Pilate there:
“Pilate said to Him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you & authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.’” (John 19:10-11a ESV) God’s own Son did not resist the corrupt human authority that had been placed over Him.
If we look at Jesus as our example to follow then we are in a world of hurt. Jesus, as our example, brings only fear because we can’t even begin to follow His example. We are dead in the water; down for the count; up the creek without a paddle. However, the gospel cord that runs throughout Scripture is not Jesus as our example, but Jesus as our Savior.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus is describing Himself when He says, “If a man has a hundred sheep, & one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the 99 on the mountains & go in search of the one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12b ESV) Jesus, the Lord & Savior of the universe, has come to search for you whenever you resist any of the authorities that God has placed over you.
The authorities may be your parents, police officers & elected officials. They might be your teacher, the IRS agent, even a baby sitter. Regarding the 4th commandment, Luther wrote, “We should fear & love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents & other authorities, but honor them, serve & obey them, love & cherish them.” Those words seem all but impossible given the state of our government today. Yet, becoming an anarchist will not win people to the love of Jesus Christ. No one looked at the riots following the murder of George Floyd & said, “See how the Christians love one another.”
Yes, our governing authorities often looked the other way & they defied the God who placed them into authority by not putting restraints on sin. However, the fact that Jesus came to save us from our sins does not remove our obligation to be subject to the governing authorities.
We are to hold the Law & the Gospel in that tension which sin has created, because you & I cannot fix the damage that sin has done to God’s creation. Instead, we are to wait patiently for our Lord to recreate all things at the Last Day. God’s mercy is the foundation for this text in Romans & His mercy calls forth a certain lifestyle in our response.
We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, to love one another & obey the authorities that God institutes. We are likewise citizens of two kingdoms & we live in both at the same time. We live already as eternal beings but in a broken & sinful world. In chapter 12, Paul tells us to bless those who persecute you & in chapter 13 he tells us to obey the government.
Both of those have a bad look to them. We struggle mightily to accept these Words from our Lord. There are times when I simply do not like what I hear from the Word of God. Yet, His Word is the source of my life. We can surrender to Yahweh as a slave to its Master because God is good. God is love, & He loves us even while we are sinners.
The only way to approach a Word of God like this from Romans 13 is in the humility of a poor, miserable sinner. God is merciful & our hope rests in His unfathomable love for us. Amen.
Before You, Lord, we bow, our God who reigns above & rules the world below,
boundless in power & love. Our thanks we bring in joy & praise, our hearts we raise to You, our King! Earth, hear your Maker’s voice; your great Redeemer own; believe, obey, rejoice & worship Him alone. Cast down your pride, your sin deplore, & bow before the Crucified. Amen. LSB 966:1, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet