Christmas and the Civil Magistrates
I said, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you;
Herod the Great is a prime example of an unjust ruler. It wasn't that his power was being threatened that spurred his unjust decree to kill all children two years of age or under (Mt. 2:16). It was that he thought of it as "his" power at all. He was in a role appointed by God to act under God's authority carrying out God's vengeance upon evildoers (Rom. 13:3-4). Ignoring that, he carried out his own vengeance on innocent lives.
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
He was in a position to use the sword to protect innocent lives but instead used it to kill them, even the lives of children. He was not the first in history to do this, nor would he be the last. And his mentality is like so many others who are in positions of authority. They begin to think of their power not as being delegated to them by God to do His will, but they think of it as being their own power so that they might do their own will.
Even now, in the great United States, we have several that have come to the frame of mind that authority unequivocally means right. It's just a matter of whether or not you have that badge of authority.(1)
Apparently, if you have a badge, you're allowed to choke someone to death for selling cigarettes, even when the man is pleading for his life and repeating: "I can't breathe."
(The case of Eric Garner)
Apparently, if you have a badge, you're allowed to shoot a man to death, even if he was just minding his own business at a Wal-Mart, talking on the phone, and posing no threat to anyone.
(The case of John Crawford III)
Apparently, if you have a badge, you're allowed to pummel someone to death (while his wife and daughter watch), even if all he was doing was breaking up a fight between family members.
(The case of Luis Rodriguez)
During this holiday season the families of the above men are deprived of their loved ones because people like Herod used their badge of authority to go beyond the scope of what God has authorized them to do.
Then comes the report of the badge wearing citizens who are allowed to waterboard, sleep deprive, and otherwise brutally mistreat God's image-bearers. Now, if the other, smaller-badge wearing citizens (police) did this to their victims they would have been prosecuted severely. But the CIA has a bigger badge, so they can get away with this. Don't get me wrong! Certainly, terrorists must answer for their crimes (Deut. 19:21), but God never allows torture as a means of gaining information - even in a threatening environment (2 Kgs. 6:21-23).(2)
Of course the CIA gets authorization for their evil work from those wearing even "bigger" badges - elected officials. And so long as we refuse to challenge the elected officials and hold them accountable I expect none of these things to change.
But that's the Christmas miracle. Yes, I said Christmas miracle!
God's church, all those who are believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, can and must influence society.
And we right here and now have the freedom and ability to use our own power to vote for and correspond with our elected officials and hold them accountable for their actions - including their delegates who bear the sword (police force, CIA, etc).
We have the power and ability to educate others on God's values, His delineations on what the civil magistrates can and cannot do. We have the power to take away the badge of those who wear it for themselves and give it to others who will submit their authority to God rather than to their own wills.
Certainly, we have that power, but how is this a Christmas miracle?
Jesus Christ, after having conquered death for all his people, said to his followers: "make disciples of all nations...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt. 28:19-20).
Let us not think that the only thing we as Christians are to do is to take the gospel to all nations. Certainly the gospel is the priority and the very first thing we are to take (Lk. 24:47), but let us not forget that our obligation to the discipled nations is to teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded.
And let us never presume Jesus had nothing to say concerning corrupt civil leaders. His forerunner John the Baptist, of whom he said, "among those born of women, none is greater than John" (Lk. 7:28), was imprisoned and killed because he spoke out against the unlawful activities of the corrupt civil ruler (Mt. 14:3-4, 10-11).
Jesus Himself called Herod (a different Herod than the one who tried to kill him when He was a child) a "fox" (Lk. 13:31-32). This was no compliment. A lion was the symbolic animal of a great leader (Rev. 5:5; cf. Gen. 49:9-10), one which Herod would expect his subjects to see him as. Yet Jesus calls him a fox, an animal symbolic of someone who is cunning and dishonest, even cowardly.
Then during His own trial, Pilate said to Jesus, "Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?" to which Jesus replied, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been give you from above" (Jn. 19:11).
God gives power to the civil magistrates and expects them to govern according to His standards (Ps. 82:1-8). Pilate did have earthly authority given from above to act as a civil magistrate, but he used it wrongfully and crucified the Lord.
But now, now that Jesus Christ has conquered death and commanded his believers to disciple all the nations and teach them to observe all that He commands, we have no excuse not to teach even our civil magistrates to act in accordance with His will. Remember the preamble to the Great Commission is this: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Mt. 28:18). Therefore, disciple the nations!
This is the Christmas miracle of which I'm speaking:
For to us a child is born,
It is this child's birth that we celebrate on Christmas. It is this child who grew up as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of all His people (Mt. 1:21). It is this grown child who, after having conquered death, proclaimed that all authority on heaven and on earth was His, and that all nations are to serve and obey Him (Mt. 28:18-20; Ps. 2:10-12).
We can have peace and justice in our country and around the world, but only by submitting both personally and publicly, both in our church life and in our government life, to the Prince of Peace, to the One who has the ultimate badge of authority: Jesus Christ!
This is Christmas: God became man to die for the sins of His people and to bring about peace over all the earth through personal reconciliation of believing sinners to God and, consequently (as the gospel furthers its influence), through the righteous rule of civil magistrates in the realm of earthly kingdoms.
Does this sound like a strange idea? If you somehow think that any of this is a new thought concerning Christmas, just revisit the lyrics to Joy to the World:
Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Christmas is a time of celebration for what God has done for us by sending us His Son. Let us enjoy all the blessings that come from knowing Jesus Christ - certainly forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation to our great God, but along with that, civil rest as our civil magistrates submit to Him. If they don't, we are to educate them that they are to be subservient to His rule (Mt. 28:18-20; Ps. 2:10-12).
Arise, O God, judge the earth;
(1) Please notice I said the word "several" and not "all." I certainly believe there are a large amount of police officers and other civil servants that are not corrupt in their thinking as to act out in this way - and praise God for them! But unfortunately there seem to be more and more accounts of those who do act out in this way.
(2) For an excellent treatment on the subject of torture from a Biblical point of view, I highly recommend the booklet Torture: A Biblical Critique by Phillip Kayser. It's available free from Biblical Blueprints, here.
(3) Please don't think I have any sympathy for Diane Feinstein or her cause. I realize she's using now as the time to publish the interrogation report solely for political reasons. She so callously states that it's "a stain on our values and our history." Yes, Ms. Feinstein, but an even greater stain is the over three thousand murders of unborn children we commit per day, to which you so heartily consent and approve!