Sermon: Pentecost 13, 10 September 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Authority- Romans 13:1-10

-Authority is probably a topic that will stir up the convict spirit that still lurks deep within the Australian psyche.

-Add in the gold rush, the Eureka stockade and a rebellious heart will begin to beat hard merely at its mention.

-None of that is particularly helped by the last several years of federal governments,

-Where political parties have even overthrown their own leaders,

-And the general population has wanted to overthrow the lot.

-But we Australians are positively sycophantic,

-Compared to the average American’s attitude to government and authority.

-But as God’s people what should our attitude be to authority?

-Do we uncritically follow society, culture or our own personal biases?

-Do we unthinkingly embrace the spirit of a rebellious, fallen heart?

-Or is there a better understanding of authority,

-That sees its place as a positive and necessary part of human interaction?

 

-The Apostle Paul in ch13 of Romans moves his readers from a focus on the personal,

-To the corporate life.

-Beginning with a warning at the start of ch12,

-Paul exhorts his Christian readers not to conform to the pattern of this world,

-But be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

-This world wants to squeeze us into its mould,

-But we must resist that,

-And live lives that reflect our obedience to God and his purposes for this creation and us in it.

-We’re to live humbly in this world,

-Thinking of ourselves with sober judgement.

-In a narcissistic, egocentric world that is a great challenge.

-But we have God’s Holy Spirit within us,

-Guiding and directing us through his word,

-To lives that will confront the world with the reality and possibility of transformation.

-We’ve been given a hope in Christ that transcends the bleak and desperate world that confounds many others,

-Because we know that our God is still in control of this world.

 

-That would have been a great message for the believers of Paul’s day to receive.

-Although the persecutions that led to John’s writing of the book of Revelation hadn’t yet escalated,

-These were still times of rising threat to the Christians of Rome,

-So Paul’s words in ch13:1 may have been somewhat confronting;

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” Romans 13: 1

-Even the mere mention of the word ‘submit’ or ‘be subject’ raises the hackles of our ferociously independent culture.

-But Paul raises a challenge to that thinking,

-Because he sees authority and government within a higher theological system.

 

-From monarchy to Marxism,

-There’s a very broad understanding of government and the rule and ordering of human society.

-But Paul doesn’t use political theory to explain how the follower of Jesus ought to face authority,

-But rather a theological one;

“There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” Romans 13:1

-All authority originates in God.

-This is just the working out of the doctrine of sovereignty,

-That God is in total control of this world,

-That everything that occurs in our world is under the divine rule of a loving and gracious God.

-And just so his readers understand how complete that rule is he continues;

“Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed,” Romans 13:2

 

-Because we’ve lived through times,

-Where we’ve seen the most horrific crimes against humanity committed by governing authorities,

-We struggle with a sense of enraged injustice,

-To believe that God could be behind even these authorities.

-But that is to focus on the extremities of the result of a fallen and broken world.

-Paul probably could have pointed to his own situation to decry a faulty authority,

-But he doesn’t, rather he says;

“Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval;for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:3-4

-The extreme abuses of authority we’re all too well aware of,

-Are aberrations of the created purpose of rule and authority.

-Every part of our world is tainted by the fall and corrupted by sin,

-But that was not how God created it.

-Notice that rulers hold no terror for those whose conduct is good.

-Conversely, those whose conduct is bad will come under its judgement.

-Governments are ordained by God for the good of society.

-Governments are to take care of their people by restraining evil and promoting good.

-Governments are to be an extension of God’s rule in this world,

-That’s why Paul says rulers are God’s servants,

-And he didn’t say it just once but three times,

-Rulers are God’s servants for our good,

-They’re God’s servants to bring judgement on wrongdoing,

-They’re God’s servant busy with the work of God.

 

-But we should never underestimate just how extensive that work of God is,

-Or how it may challenge our understanding of God’s sovereignty.

-If we jump back into the Old Testament we get a rather dramatic picture of one aspect of that work of God.

-The book of Habakkuk opens with a complaint by the prophet,

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgement comes forth perverted.” Habakkuk 1:2-4

-So violent, immoral and corrupt were the people of Israel during Habakkuk’s day,

-That he accuses God of not caring,

-Of wilfully ignoring the injustices and strife around him.

-If governing authority was to promote the public good,

-To bring evil doers to judgement,

-Then God has lost control.

-But God’s response to Habakkuk’s charge will shock him even more than the corruption around him;

“Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own.They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honour.” Habakkuk 1:5-7

 

-Habakkuk accused God of doing nothing,

-But God was planning to bring judgement upon all the sinfulness that Habakkuk was complaining of.

-But here’s the sting,

-God was going to send the Babylonians to bring that judgement.

-That would be like us complaining about the injustice and immorality of our nation,

-And God saying ‘I’m sending the North Koreans to sort it out!’

-Habakkuk is now doubly shocked,

-As bad as he thinks his own people are,

-They’re not as bad as the Babylonians.

-Can you see his confusion?

-He calls for God to bring judgement upon the sins of his people.

-But he thinks that will be done by the direct intervention of God,

-Maybe God would strike down the sinners,

-Like he did Korah and his compatriots in the wilderness.

-But instead he sends a more powerful,

-Even more ruthless authority,

-To swallow up the whole of Israel,

-The Babylonian empire.

-Just listen to these words of God to the prophet Ezekiel about this Babylonian invasion;

“I have given him Egypt as a reward for his efforts because he and his army did it for me, declares the Sovereign Lord.” Ezekiel 29:20

-God uses everything in his creation to fulfil his purposes,

-Even an even more violent and immoral nation to chasten his own people.

-Remember Paul’s words;

“They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:4

 

-If that is confronting to you,

-If that rattles your understanding of the character of God,

-Then you would be in the exact same position as Habakkuk in his confusion.

-But listen to how Habakkuk concludes his book;

“In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations.13 You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot.14 With his own spear you pierced his head when his warriors stormed out to scatter us,” Habakkuk 3:12-14

-The nation that was sent to chasten Israel was itself brought down by God.

-Historically we know that the Babylonian empire was destroyed by the Persians,

-And in their turn by the Greeks,

-And the Greeks by the Romans.

-All of that was still in the future for Habakkuk.

-But what he concludes with may be the most famous verses,

-On dependence on the promises of a faithful and loving God;

“Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls,18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.19 God, the Lord, is my strength;” Habakkuk 3:17-19

 

-In so many ways we try to justify God,

-Or put our own finite understanding in judgement over the actions and purposes of God.

-We try through sophistry or denial to avoid what we conclude to be a moral failure of God.

-Like Habakkuk we question the principles of sending an evil nation to punish another,

-Yet fail to display the humility of Habakkuk and his trust in the character of God,

-His goodness, holiness and righteousness

-Rather than trust the purposes of God,

-We so often rebel against authority in all its forms,

-Thinking that our judgements are far more accurate than God’s.

-Even in our day to day interactions with authority,

-Whether it’s a federal or state government,

-A local council,

-Our boss at work or school leadership,

-We question their motives,

-Impugn their decisions,

-Doubt their integrity,

-Forgetting that God is fully in control and he works all things for his purposes,

-Through the structures that he has built into his creation.

 

-In that same humble spirit of Habakkuk Paul concludes his exhortation;

“Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due.” Romans 13:7

-Remembering that when Jesus was asked a trick question about taxation his response was;

“Give (therefore) to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21

-But that was a tiny offering of obedience compared to the submission to authority that he made,

-As he was unjustly arrested,

-Violently tried,

-And brutally crucified so that we could be forgiven.

-Who’d have thought that from the brutality of Roman authority,

-Would come the conquering of death,

-The victory over sin,

-The defeat of the devil.

-As Jesus the Son of God submitted to the authority of the state set over him by his heavenly Father.