Struggle With Authority

April 23, 2023 Speaker: Ray Lorthioir Series: Sermons 2023

Sermon 4-23-23

Pastor Ray Lorthioir

Trinity Lutheran Church

W. Hempstead, NY

The Third Sunday of Easter


Struggle With Authority

Authority. We’ve struggled with it since we were first old enough to tell our parents, “no.”  Indeed, we’re the only species on earth that has offspring — two year olds — that will stand up to parents twice their size. And all this is because we have a problem with God.

Is there a Creator God or not? That’s the question that all struggle with. If there is a Creator God, then the universe and everything in it exists by His will and by His authority. On the other hand, if there is no Creator God and the universe just exists because it exists, then any being capable of exercising will can become their own ultimate authority — their own god.

However, if there is no God and the universe exists because it exists, then why does such a thing as authority even exist? Why should it? Therefore, that authority does exist and that it is exercised by humans, unequivocally points back to the existence of an ultimate source of authority, namely a Creator God.

Nevertheless, a God problem exists for us. For if there is a Creator God, if there is an ultimate authority in the universe, then it means only one thing. You and I cannot be God. And if we are not God, then we ultimately cannot define good and evil for ourselves. 

This is precisely what we find unacceptable. For that kind of ultimate God-authority is the very thing we crave by nature. For, we’re born having to define good and evil for ourselves, like God. This is a result of Adam and Eve falling into sin.

Therefore, to many God-players, the whole idea of a universe that exists because it exists is very appealing. Such an idea is quite nonsensical and a great source of despair because it makes life meaningless. However, since the beginning, humans have been willing to put up with the despair in order to have control, to be our own gods and to be our own source of morality — especially in sexual matters.

And Scripture tells us that we’re not the only beings who desire to be God. Indeed, the only reason we’re born having to define good and evil for ourselves is because our original parents were deceived into becoming their own gods by a rebel from another specie that is capable of playing God. That would be Satan.

Scripture unequivocally tells us that we’re not the only beings created in the Image of God. There is God’s heavenly council of elohim — spiritual beings that Scripture calls gods, with a small “g”. There are angels, cherubim and seraphim. There are the four living creatures mentioned in Revelation. All these exist in realms outside of the one we are limited to by our physical bodies. However, Scripture testifies that the spiritual beings from these other created realms are able to interact with us, for better or worse.

Scripture testifies that there are authorities and powers in the other realms.  Paul writes this of Jesus in Colossians 1:16, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” 

However, there is rebellion in the other realms, just as there is here. For we read in Isaiah 24:21-22, “21 In that day the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. 22 They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished after many days.” Yahweh is going to punish powers in the heavens! Apparently the same struggle over who will be God goes on in those other realms

Nevertheless, Scripture unequivocally states that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Yahweh the Son, here in this realm has settled matters of authority in all the realms. For, Paul writes this of Jesus in Colossians 2:15, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” And speaking of baptism, Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:21-22, “21 . . . It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” 

However, Scripture says that on earth there is a lag time between the cross and the time when Jesus’ enemies will be put under His feet. This lag time is the church age — the age during which Yahweh is calling to Himself all who will love Him and be loved by Him forever.

To love Yahweh is to love His authority over us. It’s to love His definitions of good and evil, especially His definitions of the good. Loving and living the good is called righteousness. Yahweh Himself is the source of all righteousness for He is righteousness. Those called to love Yahweh through the new birth in Jesus Christ receive the righteousness of God. As it is written in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Those who refuse to have Yahweh will ultimately become the embodiment of anti-righteousness. They will become like their god, Satan, whom Jesus called the father of lies and a murderer.

Now, Scripture calls Yahweh a king — the King, King of kings and Lord of lords with authority over everything. And because Yahweh is King, He has a Kingdom. Lutheran theologians have discerned that Scripture speaks of Yahweh’s Kingdom on earth in three ways: Christ’s Kingdom of Power; Christ’s Kingdom of Grace and Christ’s Kingdom of Glory.

Christ’s Kingdom of Power is His rule over all human unbelievers, other fallen bearers of the Image of God including fallen angels (demons) as well as His rule over irrational creatures (animals and plants) by means of His omnipotent power. Christ’s Kingdom of Grace is His rule over all who in true faith have accepted Christ’s Gospel of reconciliation. All whose lives have been justified before God by faith in the Gospel and are true members of the Christian Church on earth are under Christ’s domain in the Kingdom of Grace. Christ’s Kingdom of Glory is the Kingdom of Grace brought into the perfection of the age to come. Whoever is subject to Christ in His Kingdom of Grace as a true believer will be His subject in the Kingdom of Glory. In the Kingdom of Glory all the issues of love/freedom/good and evil will be forever resolved so that we will live in a blessed relationship with our Creator/Father through our Lord, Jesus Christ forever. The task of Christian preaching and the entire task of the church is to point people to the blessings of Christ’s Kingdom of Grace here on earth so that it will create within them a longing for the Kingdom of Glory.

It’s Christ’s Kingdom of Power that I want to deal with today because last week we saw the Apostles say to the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:19-20, “19. . . ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’” And at a second appearance before the Sanhedrin they said in Acts 5:29, “. . . ‘We must obey God rather than men!’” As I noted last week, throughout Christian history, these verses have been the battle cry of all who would resist corrupt authority. The question is: when should we invoke these verses?

For, there’s another side of the question found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Romans 13:1-3, “1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

God has established all human authority on earth. That’s what we were talking about at the beginning of the sermon. Human authority begins in the home. That’s why the first of the Ten Commandments that deals with the people around us is: “honor your father and your mother that it may go well with you.” But, St. Paul declared that God’s authority goes far beyond the home. It’s to be found in government and in the various offices of government like president, mayor and judge. For that reason, rebellion against governing authorities is actually rebellion against God and what He has instituted.

I’m no expert on the thinking of the American Revolutionaries. But I have heard it said that precisely on account of what St. Paul wrote in Romans, it was no small decision for these Christian men to rebel against the king of England. It was also no small thing to come up with the idea of government without a king — without the divine, God ordained right of a king. Upon what authority would the American government be based? 

The solution to the problem came in the form of rights — not human rights made up by legislative bodies, but rights given all humanity by God Himself. In the Declaration of Independence, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are defined as three such God given rights. The American theory is that it’s the duty of government to protect the rights God Himself has given to every human being. In this way, the government is supposed to serve the people.

Concerning those who govern, St. Paul went on to write in Romans 13:3-5, “3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.”

This is incredibly important. Because the authority of a person who governs is from God Himself, the person who governs is bound to govern on the basis of God’s will and His goodness, and not on their own human whim. Thus, governance involves rewarding what Yahweh considers “good” behavior and punishing what He considers “evil” behavior. To know what Yahweh’s definitions are, all we have to do is look in Scripture.

Now, it’s rather interesting that St. Paul wrote these things given the conditions he was facing as an apostle, the conditions the church was beginning to face in his time and what the church would have face for over two hundred years after his time.

All the Roman emperors from Augustus Caesar until Constantine proclaimed themselves gods in the Roman pantheon. The emperor had to be given worship along with all the other gods. And allegiance to the god/man emperor was the main feature that kept the empire a unified whole.

But Christianity badly disrupted that setup in several ways. First, we proclaim Jesus Christ as God incarnate in human flesh. So, who’s the real God/man here — the emperor or Jesus? Second, through Jesus, converted pagans abandoned the idea of an uncreated universe populated by various deities worthy of worship and appeasement. Instead, they took on Yahweh, the one and only uncreated Creator of heaven and earth. And Yahweh shares His worship with no other so-called gods or goddesses — including the emperor. Thus, a real Christian could not give worship to the emperor, and this caused the rulers of the empire to severely persecute Christians on a large scale.

By not worshipping the emperor, Christians obeyed God and not men. But even when as a result the emperor did them great harm instead of the good he was supposed to do, the Christians followed the rule laid down by St. Paul. They never revolted. They endured persecution instead.

The Christians finally found relief for this situation only when the emperor himself converted to Christianity. Constantine’s conversion in 312A.D. changed everything. Instead of having a god as emperor, Rome had an emperor under the authority of the only Creator God. And this is how things remained for the next 1700 years in Rome and the subsequent Christian monarchies of Europe. It was known as the divine right of kings.

However, everything again changed beginning with the 1789 French Revolution, the collapse of the European monarchies in the wake of World War I and especially with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Raving atheists gained control of Russia and persecuted Christians for the next 70 years. If the Nazis had remained in power, it was their plan to return Germany to pagan religion. Here in the United States, it’s quite clear that neo-Marxists presently are striving to grasp all the levers of power. They’ve gotten perilously close to achieving their goal. What should be done?

 First, there needs to be resistance within the Kingdom of Grace. For close to 200 years now, the church has been hollowed out from within by those willing to sacrifice the Word of God on the altar of “Reason.” Reason was the goddess of the French Revolution. She turned out to be a blood thirsty tyrant. She later ruled over the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. But beginning in the mid 1800’s Reason wormed her way into Christian seminaries. In some places, she brought Marxism with her. Wherever reason gained a foothold, there the truth of Scripture and even the very existence of Jesus was doubted.

Together with her twin, Materialism, Reason also captured the thinking of scientists in the late 1800’s, and in the 1900’s created the false science versus religion controversy. The result is that a pagan theology of the world’s origin is presently taught as scientific fact in our public schools, instead of the religion that it really is. In response, the church circled the wagons of faith around itself in the 20th century. But, in the false faith versus reason battle that ensued, reason always claimed superiority.

By the grace of God, the last fifty years have reversed the situation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is now well established as the most reliable fact of ancient history available to us. In science, biology has made discoveries about the basic building block of life — the cell — that are impossible to explain without invoking intelligent design. At this very moment pictures from the new telescope are throwing the present theories of cosmic origin into confusion. Yahweh has not left Himself without testimony in the physical world. His activity as Creator of everything is slowly but surely emerging from our studies. Therefore, the church no longer has to kowtow to the goddess Reason. Instead, we can say that faith in the Word of God is becoming quite reasonable.

However, in the last fifty years there have been new attacks attempting to hollow out the church: abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism and critical race theory. Those who would hold fast to Yahweh and His truth in the Kingdom of Grace are now forced to separate themselves from such apostasy as never before. Back in 1987 and 1988, I led the people who comprised the congregation at that time out of a Lutheran body that has subsequently proven itself to be apostate and corrupt. We are blessed in that the Lutheran organization we joined then has remained faithful to the Lord ever since. For, only the true Kingdom of Grace can stand up to the Kingdom of Power when the leaders of that Kingdom refuse to submit to Yahweh’s truth and will.

The task of those in authority in Christ’s Kingdom of Power has not changed. It remains their task to reward goodness and punish evil, and not the other way around as seems to be occurring with increasing frequency. One thing is for sure. Times have changed for the church in the United States. In order to remain true to Christ’s Kingdom of Grace, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we’re going to have to tangle with those in the Kingdom of Power who demand that we worship their false gods. Like the early Christians, we have to be prepared for the cost of obeying God instead of men.

But taking up a cross and following Jesus is always worth it. He is the way, the truth, the resurrection and the life. Who can ask for more? Therefore, let us boldly live for the risen King who by His obedient sacrifice has reconciled us to Yahweh through the forgiveness of our sins that is in His sacred blood. Amen. 

All Bible quotes are from the NIV.

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