May 30, 2019
Titus 3:1-7 (NLT)
Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other.
But when God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.
I once heard someone say (and I’m paraphrasing) that when people complain they don’t want to hear me preach about politics what they really mean is that Jesus is challenging their politics.
But everything about Jesus is political. His birth was political because King Herod was so narcissistic and insecure he ordered babies killed so Jesus wouldn’t take his throne.
And his death was political because as Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem from the east, Pontius Pilate rode a war horse in from the west. Both Herod and Pilate were the representatives and reflection of Caesar, and Jesus challenged their politics.
And that’s what Paul is doing with us in today’s text. We’ve been looking at what Paul means by “submit to the government and its officers.” Remember, Paul is talking about government officers in the Roman Empire, so they’re representatives and reflections of Caesar. And though he says submit, he’s been secretly subverting them in plain sight this whole time.
Remember back to the end of chapter two, right before Paul goes all political he says, “[We] look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people…” (Titus 2:13).
Then right after he talks about submitting to the government he says, “But when God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life” (v.4-7).
Three times in those passages Paul calls Jesus “Savior,” which N.T. Wright points out is the title the Romans used for Caesar because, “Caesar claimed to have rescued, or ‘saved’, the world from chaos, war and anarchy.” In fact, the Roman coin Jesus held when he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God,” had an image of the emperor with the inscription: Augustus Tiberius, Son of the Divine and High Priest.
Do you see what Paul did there? He sandwiched submit to Caesar in between the story of how Jesus – the Son of God and our High Priest – is the one who really rescued the world from the chaos of sin. Our hope is not in Caesar but in the victory of the cross and the return of Christ.
But it is not just the past and future works of Jesus that subvert the Caesars’ of history, it is also the present. In another letter, Paul writes that God our Savior “raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church” (Ephesians 1:20-22).
Today is Ascension Day, a day most of us don’t think about but is just as important as Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Advent. We know what it means to celebrate Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and return… but today we the celebrate that right now as you read this Jesus Christ is sitting on the throne of heaven and earth. Jesus’ ascension means that Jesus is Lord over my Caesar and your Caesar right now, not just when he comes back in final victory.
And it gets better because in another letter Paul says, “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 NIV). So not only is Lord over Caesar, he’s praying for us right now in the midst of this fallen empire.
By putting Caesar and his representatives between the works of the Savior, Paul is saying that we’re not living in Caesar’s story, Caesar is living in Jesus’ story. And as we’ve already seen, the more we embody Caesar’s life and character the less we proclaim the reign of Christ.
Dr. Steve Seamands writes that “whenever we fail to proclaim the ascended Christ, enthroned and exalted, something else – our personal agendas, the world’s agendas, the church’s agendas – moves in to fill the vacuum. Mark it down: when we fail to exalt and enthrone Jesus, something or someone else inevitably assumes the throne.”
So maybe when we preach about Jesus we are hearing about politics… just not ours.
Jesus, you’re sitting at the Father’s right hand praying for me and the world right now. May my prayers for your Kingdom on Earth as it is heaven match yours. Amen.
Where has something or someone else assumed the throne in your life?
For the awakening,