May 29, 2019
Titus 3:1-3 (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.
There is a statue of Francis Asbury, the first Methodist bishop to America, tucked away off 16th and Mt. Pleasant in Washington DC. It was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge on October 15, 1924, to great fanfare as the “fifteenth rider to Washington.” The previous fourteen statues were of generals who won wars, but Asbury was a preacher who saved souls.
“There are only two main theories of government in the world,” Coolidge said, “One rests on righteousness, the other rests on force.”
It was at this statue on election day ninety-two years later (2016) that a few of us knelt down and prayed for how God’s people would respond regardless of who won: “We are at the center of power in the world and we say that’s not going to cut it,” one friend prayed, “We don’t blame our officials, because they reflect and represent us.”
To represent means to speak for or to depict or embody, and there’s something to consider in today’s text about what or who we’re speaking for or embodying in a world of mixed politics and religion.
Listen to how Paul contrasts a reflection after he calls Titus to submit to the governing authorities: “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.”
Gentle and humble versus evil, envy, and hatred towards each other. Are we representative of our elected officials, or are the reflecting us? To answer that, let’s go to the place in Scripture crazier than Paul talking about politics and religion: The Book of Revelation and the infamous number 666.
In Revelation 13 the apostle John warns his readers not to take the “mark of the beast” because: “He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666” (Revelation 13:16-18).
In his seminal study on Revelation, the late great New Testament scholar, Robert Mulholland, showed how Jewish writers like John used numbers as a form of code. Remember, John is imprisoned for not submitting to the Roman Empire, and he’s writing a letter “under the radar” warning and encouraging other Jewish Christians in the Empire. Biblical Hebrew did not have numerals but instead used different letters to represent numbers, and the number 666 in Hebrew letters spelled out “Caesar Nero.”
John is telling his readers not to take the mark – the representation – of Caesar. He’s telling them not to submit to him. And what is that mark? John says the representation of Caesar is his name, which means his nature and character: power, wealth, control. And where is that mark of representation? The hand and forehead. Now watch this because it’s really cool:
In Deuteronomy 11:18 God says, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” Mulholland points out that in the Hebrew mindset the forehead represented your worldview, and the hand represented your actions based on that worldview.
Do you see it? God says to let his Word be your worldview, and let his Word dictate your actions. Through John God is warning us not to take on the character of the governing authorities as our worldview or let them dictate our actions. Don’t represent them.
So how do we represent his Word? If you thought that was cool, watch this: John writes in his gospels that the “Word became human and made his home among us.” The mark of Christ on the forehead is found in the crown of thorns. The mark of Christ on the hand is the nails of the cross.
Let’s put this in black and white language: We can either have the worldview and actions of our favorite politician or political party, or we can have the worldview and actions of Jesus, who as Paul says in Philippians 2:5-11: “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
“There are only two main theories of government in the world. One rests on righteousness, the other rests on force.”
One is Christ, the other is Caesar. And as President Coolidge went on to say at the Asbury dedication, “Christ spent no time in the antechamber of Caesar.”
In other words, it does not matter whether Pharaoh, Emperor, Führer, Dictator, Dear Leader, Your Majesty, Prime Minister, or President sits in the seat of political power… we are to only represent the Lamb of God who sits upon the throne.
Jesus, you are Lord. My Caesar is not. Amen.
Does what you post in your social media feed and what you let disciple you through the news, talk radio, and podcasts cause you to represent your favorite Caesar or Jesus?
For the awakening,