This series is called Undivided to give us hope that in the midst of an election, where there’s division in our country, we can be undivided as a church. This week we’ll talk about how to ground our lives in something more solid than a particular political ideology or power. There is a foundation to operate from that will allow us to give peace, compassion and love to the people around us amidst the type of division we’re experiencing.
- I will ground my life in Christ and his teachings, not a political ideology.
- I will have the same mindset in me that was in Jesus Christ.
- I will be civil toward those who I disagree with politically.
- I will be a peacemaker in a divided society.
- I will extend compassion and love to those around me.
Hi, I’m Matt VanCleave, one of the pastors at Blue Oaks.
We’re in this series called Undivided to give us hope that in the midst of an election, where there’s division in our country, we can be undivided as a church.
Now, you may be thinking, “Yeah, but there could be people in this church who voted the wrong way.”
I guarantee you there are people in this church who voted differently than you. But that’s part of the beauty of the church.
I was trying to think of a word God would want to say to us amidst the type of division we’re experiencing. And what I want to share with you is this –
There is a unity that runs deeper than division.
I was thinking about this question – is this the first time in the 2,000-year history of the church that we’ve experienced political division?
The answer is no.
In Jesus’ day, he lived between Rome and Israel. Romans killed Israelites, and Israelites wanted to kill Romans.
Scott shared last week that one of the disciples of Jesus was a guy named Matthew, who was a tax collector. So he collaborated with Rome.
Another disciple was a guy named Simon the zealot. Zealots wanted to kill Romans and those who collaborated with Rome.
Jesus put them together. Think about what that must have been like.
They were sitting there when Jesus said, “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood shed for you,” and they realized, “There’s a unity for the human race that’s way bigger than the Roman Empire or the people of Israel. And we get to be part of it because of Jesus.”
So we’re talking in this series about how we actually ground our lives in something more solid than any particular political ideology or power.
There is a foundation we can operate from that will allow us to give peace and compassion and love to the people around us when we’re going through what we’re going through right now.
What I want to do today is give us a deeper framework to view life from by looking at the three most important elections that have ever occurred in human history.
Interestingly enough, they’re all in the Bible, and they’re all elections in which God was actually, in a sense, on the ballot.
I want to walk through these elections, look at what the outcome was, what they teach us about God, and what God’s response teaches us about how we can ground our lives into something deeper.
The first election took place way back in Israel’s history.
When Israel first occupied the Promised Land, the idea was that they were offered by God the chance to be this noble experiment – to live freely in a community of loving people under the direct reign of God.
Israel was to be a people who were marked by justice and compassion.
Where people lived in freedom and security and safety.
Where families would give love and acceptance to children, and the hearts of the children would be turned toward their parents.
Where culture was to bring beauty, moral instruction and goodness.
Where they would observe the Sabbath. No one would be a workaholic. Everyone would live in a spirit of leisure and rest.
Where they were to observe this practice called tithing, so they wouldn’t be enslaved by consumerism and materialism and, “How much more can I get?” and, “What’s in it for me?” but there would just be this spirit of generosity, and they would help one another to live in goodness and excellence of character.
That was God’s plan for the human race.
But there was this problem for the people of Israel. They thought, “If I vote for that, then I have to make God my King. I have to surrender my life to him. I’m not sure I want to do that. When we have problems, when there’s an enemy outside, when there’s a threat, when I feel anxious, I have to just live in trust that God is going to take care of me, and I’m not so sure I want to do that.”
So the leaders of Israel went to this guy Samuel. He was a prophet. They told him what they wanted.
“Now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 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.”
You hear the sadness in the heart of God.
By the way, this passage is not about modern nations, what form of government we choose. It’s a spiritual decision that’s being made. God is saying to Samuel, “This isn’t about you.”
Every time people chose idolatry, every time people decided they would make their lives about money, every time they neglected the poor, every time they oppressed a foreigner and said, ‘Oh, you’re different. We don’t like how you look or sound,’ every time they forgot to care for a widow or an orphan, every time they decided they would just blow off God’s standard for sex, every time they nursed resentment, they were saying, “God, we don’t want you as King.”
God says, “Samuel, I want you to tell them that if they choose a king…”
And the idea here is, “If they choose to place their ultimate trust in merely human political power, what they’re in for is what power always does to people.”
So Samuel goes to Israel and says, “If you choose to have a king in violation of what God wants for you, here’s what’s going to happen…”
“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. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.
Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen.”
In the ancient world, these were some of the most subversive words about having a king that had ever been written. They were considered so radical that in the Middle Ages, kings would not allow clergy to read these words in church because they thought it would undermine the authority people would give kings.
God says to Samuel, “I want you to tell people what to expect if they go down this road, if they reject having me as king.”
Samuel does, and then this is really the first election now. Israel has to decide. There are just two names on the ballot. There’s God, or there’s a human king.
God wonders, “What will Israel say?”
Will they remember how when they were slaves in Egypt, it was God who freed them from Pharaoh and his army, and led them miraculously across the Red Sea?
Will they remember that God was for them a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night so they could actually be guided by God?
Will they remember how he took them up on Mount Sinai and told them he loved them and gave them his will – his wisdom about how human life should work?
Will they remember how he fed them every day?
Will they want him to be their king?
Here’s their response.
“No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations,
That’s really good thinking, isn’t it? What a noble aspiration.
Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
God loses this election. People decide they’re going to have a King.
When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
It’s so interesting. I think this is worth noting.
A lot of times, if you refuse to take from God what God wants for you, God will allow you to have what you want to have.
“You want to go down that road? You really want to have that attitude? You really want to have that relationship? You really want to have that pattern?”
A lot of times, if we’re not willing to learn the easy way from God, he will let us learn the hard way. He does that with Israel.
But he has plans. God doesn’t give up. He says, “All right. Let them have a king.”
And they have kings. Some of them are better. Some of them are worse. Most of them are kind of a mess.
And that’s kind of the way it works in life. That’s kind of what power tends to create in people. None of them are able to bring the kind of transformation of the human spirit and character that’s needed to bring about God’s plan for humanity.
A sociologist named James Davison Hunter wrote an interesting book called To Change the World. Part of what he notes is – when people live in a fractured society, when there are a lot of divisions, what happens is everyone wants political power.
There are lots of different spheres: education, literature, art, but when things get fractured, people say, “I want political power because political power is the only lever that has coercion available to it.”
If you have political power, you can make people do what you want. You can pass laws. You have an army.
Everyone thinks, “The way to get what we want, the way to fix everything is to get our people in office. We’ll be the ones to make the laws. Then we’ll force our will on everyone else and make things be the way we want them to be.”
I just want to say – if you believe political power is the ultimate form of power to make things right, you are at odds with the writers of Scripture and the message of Jesus.
For many, many years, Israel suffers through many, many kings. And then they lose their kingdom, and they go into exile, and they suffer under other kings, until a unique idea begins to emerge in the minds of some in Israel, some prophets – “What the human race needs is something no earthly king can give.”
And so this idea begins to circulate that God is going to do something.
A prophet named Isaiah put it like this.
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.
And so this idea kind of gets passed from one generation to another.
Then one day, a child is born. One day, a Son is given. And his name is Jesus. He says there is kind of a kingdom available through him – a government, if you will.
Jesus is running what really is in many many ways a campaign, but it’s a different kind of campaign.
God is offering to be King again. God just can’t help himself.
But there has never been a campaign like this.
Jesus has no force, no warriors or soldiers to back him up.
He has no money, no campaign funds. In fact, he just gives money away.
He has no palace, no capital. In fact, he doesn’t even have a place to lay his head.
He doesn’t defeat his enemies; he forgives them.
He doesn’t walk around citing the polls that would enable him to predict his victory. In fact, he publicly predicts that he is going to lose. He goes on Face the Nation and says, “It is necessary for the Son of Man to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hand of the chief priests and the teachers of the law and then to be crucified.”
Then Peter, who kind of takes it on himself to be Jesus’ campaign manager, goes ballistic. He says, “Jesus you can’t say stuff like that.”
Peter goes before the press and says, “What he meant to say is, ‘We’re all going to die, so let’s just embrace life.’”
Jesus says, “No, what I meant to say was in fact I am going to die, because I’m on a path where my death is going to accomplish something that my life never could.”
And all the powers in this religious sphere and the political sphere and the military sphere were threatened by Jesus, as the powers always are. It’s part of why it’s so important for the church never to be captive to any of those other kinds of power, never to try to seize or identify too closely with those powers.
The most powerful political and military man in Jesus’ world, a guy named Pilate, brings Jesus before him and asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
That was a loaded phrase. It was a technical term, a title that the Roman Empire had conferred on Herod the Great when Jesus was a baby. It carried with it a great deal of power. No one had had it since Herod the Great died.
Everyone wanted to be king of the Jews. Pilate is asking Jesus, “Are you king of the Jews?”
What does Jesus say? “Yeah, but not like you think. Yeah, but not the way the world looks at it.”
He makes what I believe is the most important political statement, that has more implications about spheres and separation of church and state and so on than any statement that has ever been made.
Jesus said to Pilate:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“My kingdom is not of this world. It’s real. Pilate, it’s more real than you can imagine, but it’s not of this world. If it were, my soldiers would fight.”
See, that’s what kingdoms of our world do. That’s what political power does. It has coercion. It has might. It will establish its sovereignty and fight to do so.
Jesus says, “I won’t do that. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. We would take up swords. We would have chariots. We would have troops. But now my kingdom is from another place. I’m not going to do that.”
Pilate says, “So then you are a king?”
And this leads us to the second election.
Picture this scene.
It’s Passover in Jerusalem. It would be very much like the Fourth of July in America, only imagine we’re occupied by an oppressive empire, and all of our dreams and aspirations in history about being free and independent are on the surface.
Every year at Passover, Pilate would set one political prisoner free as kind of a concession to Israel, kind of a way to get everyone in Israel to think, “The emperor is not that bad. Caesar is actually a good guy.”
It’s that time, and Pilate gets this idea. He says, “I’ll offer them Jesus.”
There are two candidates on the ballot now. One of them is Jesus, king of the Jews. The other one is a guy named Barabbas, forgotten to history. He was part of this insurrection attempt. He was a murderer, not even the leader, just a criminal.
Now God is on the ballot again a second time, and the person of Jesus says, “I will be your king if you want.”
Pilate asks them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?”
They say, “No.”
Jesus is watching, wondering, “Will they remember that I lived among them as one of them? Will they remember how I taught them, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the meek. Yours is the kingdom of heaven.’ Will they remember I’m the one who took their children into my arms and blessed them, and I’m the one who would love scandalous people, prostitutes, and eat with tax-collectors and touch lepers?”
“No, I don’t think so. I don’t think we want that kind of king. I think we want someone who will slaughter Romans. Yeah, we’ll take Barabbas.”
Pilate asked, “What then shall I do with the one you call king of the Jews?”
“Crucify him. He didn’t do what we want. He didn’t give what we asked. Put him on a cross.”
And they did, as Jesus knew they would.
It’s the strangest thing – what marked Jesus as the biggest loser to the kingdoms of this world is what marked him as greatest in the kingdom of God.
It’s a different kind of kingdom.
And we’re to be citizens now of that kind of kingdom. We’re to learn to be like him.
That’s why the apostle Paul, after Jesus loses this second election and gets crucified, says:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
“In your relationships with one another now, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who made himself nothing…” What politician does that? “…by taking on the very nature of a servant…” What president does that? “…he humbled himself…” What king does that? What caesar does that? “…by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
You see, this is all about the arc of Jesus’ life?
He’s made himself nothing, taken on the nature of a servant, humbled himself, become obedient to death, even death on a cross. The point is – that’s as low as you can go.
If the king is way up here, Jesus is all the way down here.
And it’s precisely because of this that election number three takes place, but election number three is very different from election number one and two as we’ll see in just a moment.
Okay, so Jesus humbles himself, is obedient to death on a cross for the redemption of the human race. He pours out his life, and therefore, precisely for this reason:
God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
God exalted Jesus to the highest place. He went down as low as he could go. God raised him up to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name (every caesar, every king, every president) that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue in heaven and on earth and under the earth acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is a different election.
There’s one office at stake – Lord of heaven and earth.
There’s one platform – the kingdom of God.
There is one and only one candidate – Jesus of Nazareth.
There is one and only one precinct – heaven.
There is one and only one voter with one vote – and that is God the Father.
He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything.
Therefore, God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. (This is an office. It’s about power, but it’s a different kind of power.)
God seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, (caesar and CEO and president) and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the age to come.
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything. (And there will be no recount. Jesus is the one who rules all.)
And this leads to another election. The last election is the one that will happen in your heart. On purpose or by accident, for better or for worse, you will decide who will rule your life.
There are two names on the ballot, “God,” and, “Me.”
God will say to you, kind of like he did to Israel, “If you want your will to be done, you can have your will. You can put your ego on your throne. All your money can be all about you. All the power you can get can be all about you. All the pleasure you can get, all the safety you can get, all the security you can get, all the applause you can get… It can all be about you.”
You can be king if you want, but the word for that is hell, life without God and God’s goodness. Or you can have the same mindset in you that was in Christ Jesus. You can bow your head. You can bend your knee. You can pour yourself out.
Then you get to be part of a kingdom that will never end, that’s not a kingdom from this world. Our citizenship is in heaven. We’re here. We’re a part of this country. We’re to care for it, but the writers of Scripture say we’re here as aliens and strangers. It’s not the primary source of our identity or security.
Now, as we close, I want to ask you to do me a favor – take a real deep breath. And I want to tell you something. God is not worried about this election. God is not sitting up in heaven, chewing his fingernails, and saying, “Oh my gosh. What am I going to do? Out of all eternity, the billions of years, the billions of planets in unspeakable galaxies, on this one little planet, out of all of the billions of people, this one little country. What if, out of all eternity, for this one little four-year period in this one little country running for this one little office, people would choose out of the two people running the second-best person and not the first-best person?”
I’ll let you in on a little secret:
Presidents come and go. They’ve been doing it for a long time.
Administrations begin and end.
Elections get won and lost.
Political parties ebb and flow.
Governments rise and fall.
But the government of God is the one that matters, and it will be ruled over by Jesus Christ, the crucified carpenter of Nazareth. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and of his government, there will be no end.
So let’s just be beacons of light where there is so much darkness going on.
Alright, now, would you pray with me:
God, we pray for our country. We pray for healing. We pray for peace. We pray for justice and righteousness.
We pray for our leaders, God. We know they’re all just people. They’re all fallible human beings just like we are. God, would you give them wisdom. Would you bless them. Would you help them to lead well.
I pray for everyone who’s listening to this prayer right now, God, that you will help us, that you will be King of our lives, that you will rule our hearts and our egos, and our little families.
Help us to live in the great peace and assurance that whatever goes on in the weeks and months ahead, nothing can thwart or stand against the love and peace and joy that you have inaugurated on this earth through Jesus. Thank you for that, God. We offer ourselves to you. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.